Sydney Film Festival 2011: Day 9

Take Shelter

As the working week drew to a close in old Sydney town, the eleventh Official Competition film of the 58th Sydney Film Festival, Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter, made its debut in Australia. The day begin with a thematic trilogy of films dealing with life and death – The Good Life, Post Mortem and My Reincarnation – and continued this year’s animal theme with offering of Project Nim and Animals Distract Me. The red carpet was rolled out for star Mia Wasikowska as she was on hand for the Australian debut of Jane Eyre, the umpteenth adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel of the same name. – Friday, June 17, 2011

Project Nim posterProject Nim

From 1973, a young chimpanzee named Nim was taken from his own mother and given to a human family to be raised as one of us. The aim of the experiment was to determine if a chimpanzee could be taught a form of communicable language, primarily a sign-language based one. The documentary, from Man on Wire director James Marsh, reveals not only the remarkable methods and progress on this project, but of the human frailties that tore it apart and diminished the quality of life of these animals. Through amazingly frank interviews, along with archival footage and photos, we follow a story that sees human ignorance and ego pass Nim from one unfortunate situation to the next. Project Nim simultaneously shows the animal kingdom’s capacity for higher learning, and the human tendency to squander that same intellect.  A timely forerunner to Rise of of the Planet of the Apes.

The Reel Bits
An engaging, and often heartbreaking, document of a science experiment that define the lives of chimp and humans alike and a reminder that we are capable of so much more.

Project Nim does not currently have an Australian release date.

Sarah also took a look at Project Nim on Day 5 of the Festival.

Take Shelter posterTake Shelter

From Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly through to Black Swan, cinema has used a variety of ways of visually expressing the state of the schizophrenic mind. Although Take Shelter begins with the kind of prophetic warnings seen in big-budget disaster films such as The Happening or Hereafter, what follows is just as much a mystery as it is a document of an unravelling mind. The confounding behaviour that Curtis exhibits, in an amazing performance by Michael Shannon, is all the more powerful because it seems real. Yet the power of the film is that his sleeping and waking dreams are also presented in a way that seems entirely plausible, causing the audience to equally doubt the legitimacy of what they are seeing. With the feel of a Todd Haynes film such as Safe, and Nicholas skillfully navigates the loud and quiet moments, giving some genuinely touching intimate confessions between Shannon and rising star Chastain (The Tree of Life). Nichols provides no easy answers for the audience, even in its ambiguous conclusion, and perhaps he is simply saying that this is modern life.

The Reel Bits
Filled with gripping performances from two stars ready to burst into the stratosphere, Take Shelter is a film that totally captures the zeitgeist.

Take Shelter does not currently have an Australian release date.

Jane Eyre posterJane Eyre

With at least a score of film adaptations already gracing the silver screen, and half as many again produced for television, it was doubtful from the beginning as to whether Fukunaga could bring anything original to the tale. Stripping much of the gothic horror from the novel, including most of the wonderful Red Room sequence or any vision of her dead uncle, this abbreviated version of the Brontë saga relies heavily on the casting of the two leads. Wasikowska has grown quite adept at looking pale and outraged at societal norms, a virtual transplant of her Alice in Wonderland role and Michael Fassbender is quickly being groomed as the new Colin Firth (with this being his Mr. Darcy role). His capable performance as Rochester may make a certain demographic within the audience collectively heave their bosoms and swoon with delight, and the resulting light-headedness that results from being Fassbendered may cause one to overlook the otherwise flat and lifeless interpretation of a classic novel. Co-produced by BBC Films, Jane Eyre does little to distinguish itself from previous televised efforts, and Adriano Goldman’s (Conviction) unspectacular photography betrays his TV origins with a look that does not demand the large format screen. Even the presence of Judi Dench serves to remind us of how good costume drama can be when it hits closer to the mark than this sub-par effort.

The Reel Bits
A flat and often unemotional retelling of a well-worn story, with a summary version of the tale that is often lifeless, unintentionally funny and tedious at best.

Jane Eyre will be released in Australia on August 11, 2011 from Universal.

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: