SFF 2016: Sydney Film Festival adds Cannes favourites ‘The Handmaiden’, ‘Toni Erdmann’, ‘Personal Shopper’, ‘Red Turtle’ and more

The Handmaiden

Just as we thought that we had our schedules locked in, Sydney Film Festival has announced seven features directly for Cannes this year, several of which are highly anticipated award-winners. Looks like it is time to buy another Flexipass.

The chief among these are Park Chan-wook’s THE HANDMAIDEN, the Kristen Stewart starring PERSONAL SHOPPER from Oliver Assayas, Studio Ghibli’s first foreign language animated film THE RED TURTLE, the FIPRESCI Prize winner TONI ERDMANN, documentary HISSEIN HABRÉ, A CHADIAN TRAGEDY, Jim Jarmusch’s PATERSON, THE CINEMA TRAVELLERS, documentary that celebrates India’s travelling picture shows and a new print of the Marlon Brando western, ONE-EYED JACKS.

Films go on sale at 10am Monday 6 June 2016, with descriptions and dates below. Check sff.org.au for more details.

Visually sumptuous and very sexy, The Handmaiden is a stunning and suspenseful period drama by acclaimed Korean director Park Chan-wook (Old Boy; Stoker, 2013). Inspired by Sarah Water’s novel ‘Fingersmith’, Park cleverly transposes the story to 1930s colonial Korea and Japan to tell a sensual, twist-filled tale. Sookee (Kim Tae-ri) is hired as a handmaiden to the repressed and isolated Japanese heiress Hideko (Kim Min-hee), who lives with her domineering uncle. Though servile and charming on the surface, Sookee has been planted in the household by a swindler posing as a Japanese Count (Ha Jung-woo). His plan is to seduce and elope with Hideko and take possession of her considerable fortune. But all is not what it seems, and when the intense attraction between Sookee and Hideko explodes, all bets are off. Visually arresting, unashamedly erotic and romantic,The Handmaiden finds Park at his stylish best.

Screens Saturday 18 June, 9.15pm, Event Cinemas George Street, and Sunday 19 June, 8.50pm, Event Cinemas George Street.


In his Cannes-selected documentary, the multi-award winning director of A Screaming Man and Grigris (SFF 2013) honours the victims of a brutal African dictatorship and their long fight for justice. In June 1982, rebel commander Hissein Habré forcefully took control of the Central African Republic of Chad. Director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun was one of the many exiles from Habré’s punishing regime, which lasted until 1992. The ruthless political police – supported by the USA, France, Egypt and Iraq – were expected to keep the population in line. Haroun meets the men and women, often bearing mental and physical scars, who survived the regime’s brutal campaign of harassment and imprisonment. The resulting interviews are disturbing but ultimately inspiring. Through their courage and determination, the victims accomplished an unprecedented feat in the history of Africa:that of bringing a Head of State to trial. In 2013, the former dictator was arrested in Senegal. The outcome of Habré’s landmark trial was announced on 30 May 2016, where he was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity, summary execution, torture and rape.

Screens Thursday 16 June, 6.30pm, Event Cinemas George Street, and Sunday 19 June, 2.00pm, Event Cinemas George Street.

The Cinema Travellers

A critically acclaimed, poignant documentary that celebrates India’s travelling picture shows and laments their demise, filled with exquisite visuals and marvellous eccentrics. In the world of the touring cinema, the projectionists coax their rusty 35mm projectors into life, sleeping and eating alongside their ancient machines. It’s a far remove from Australia’s multiplexes, but the crowd is no less enraptured. Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya’s heart-warming documentary, filmed over five years, follows the fortunes of three cinema workers in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Bapu, the proprietor of Akshay Touring Talkies, gets ready for the season by brushing cobwebs from his broken-down truck, and blessing his ancient projector with incense. Mohamed and his crew haul an enormous tent and weighty projector around small-town fairs, where the audience sits on the stony ground. For 45 years, Prakash has repaired touring projection equipment, abandoned cogs and parts now fill his workshop, alongside the ‘oil bath’ projector he invented, and for which he once held big dreams. Declining audiences and ever fewer celluloid options force Bapu and Mohamed to shift to a digital format. Cinephiles will be heartbroken when an ancient projector is sold for scrap, but can be reassured that the movies endure, brighter and sharper than ever.

Screens Wednesday 15 June, 6.00pm, Event Cinemas George Street, and Saturday 18 June, 3.00pm, Event Cinemas George Street (includes introduction and Q&A).

Paterson (Adam Driver)

Paterson, Jarmusch’s popular Cannes hit, is a gentle, quietly moving portrait of a bus driver poet (Adam Driver, Girls) and his artistic wife (Golshifteh Farahani, About Elly). Paterson (Driver) drives his daily bus route in the city of Paterson, New Jersey, carefully observing the city and people around him. He follows the same routine each day: waking up, going to work, walking the dog, eating dinner at home with his wife Laura (Farahani) and ending the night with a single beer at the local bar. But Paterson is also a poet, and each day he writes a poem in his notebook, finding contentment in its very existence. Meanwhile, Laura finds outlets for her artistic ambitions and harbours dreams of becoming a country musician. Patiently paced, and revealing the beauty in the details of everyday life, Paterson further confirms Jarmusch as a master chronicler of small but profound moments.

Screens Tuesday 14 June, 9.15pm, Event Cinemas George Street, and Thursday 16 June, 8.30pm, Event Cinemas George Street.

Personal Shopper

Kristen Stewart shines in this spooky ghost story by Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria, Clean), which earned him the Best Director prize at Cannes 2016. Stewart (who also stars in Certain Women, which screens in Official Competition at SFF this year) plays Maureen, a young American woman living in Paris and working as a personal shopper for a celebrity. She spends her days perusing the city’s luxury designer stores, collecting fabulous pieces that she is forbidden from wearing and could never hope to own. Alongside her isolating job, Maureen pursues her psychic ability to communicate with spirits. All the while, she longs for a sign from her recently deceased twin, Lewis, who promised to send her a message from the other side. Stewart gives a commanding performance, subtly shifting between certainty and fragility. Things become stranger and stranger as it becomes apparent that an unfriendly spirit is pursuing Maureen. Following their successful collaboration on Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas and Stewart reunite to create a daring, provocative and creepy existential drama.

Screens Wednesday 15 June, 9.15pm, Event Cinemas George Street, and Friday 17 June, 8.15pm, Event Cinemas George Street. Screens with short The Beast.

The Red Turtle

The revered Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away) joined forces with London-based artist Michaël Dudok de Wit to create this stunning, dialogue-free, animated fable set on a desert island. A shipwrecked sailor washes ashore and explores his new home. He finds a sandy beach fringed by palm trees, a swaying bamboo forest, limpid freshwater pools and a rocky incline. It’s an earthly paradise that our lanky castaway is desperate to leave, but his escape plans are mysteriously thwarted. It’s a simple story, akin to fairy tales or myths, illustrated in exquisite line and colour, with spectacular dream sequences.

Dudok de Wit has won prizes the world over for his lyrical short films and commercials, including an Oscar for his 2001 short film Father and Daughter.  The outstanding creative team for The Red Turtle also includes Isao Takahata (The Tale of Princess Kaguya, SFF 2014) as creative producer, Jean-Christophe Lie (The Triplets of Belleville) as supervising animator, French director Pascale Ferran (Bird People) as co-screenwriter, and Studio Ghibli’s revered Toshio Suzuki (Howl’s Moving Castle, SFF 2015) as producer.

The visuals are mesmerising, symbolic, and charming – look out for the cute sand crabs – and invite the audience to interpret this timeless cycle of life story at their own pace. This unique feature, which premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes last month, demands to be seen on the big screen.

Screens Friday 17 June, 6.30pm, Event Cinemas George Street, and Saturday 18 June, 5.30pm, Event Cinemas George Street.

Toni Erdmann

Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes, Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann is a clever and original comedy about family bonds, modern business tactics and the value of just letting go. Practical joker Winfried (Peter Simonischek) has retired, and regrets that he doesn’t get to see enough of his busy daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller). Working as a management consultant in Romania, Ines is advising a company how they can increase profits by laying off workers. It’s not the most opportune time for a visit, but Winfried descends on Bucharest and is soon donning a terrible suit, strange wig and outrageous fake teeth. As his alter ego “Toni Erdmann”, a life coach, his intrusion into Ines’ life becomes bolder and more provocative, pushing his daughter to question her life, and the place her father should occupy in it. With fantastic, fearless performances from its leads, a bizarre sense of humour, and a real honesty in its treatment of the complexities of familial relationships, Toni Erdmann is a truly unforgettable cinematic experience.

Screens Wednesday 15 June, 8.15pm, Event Cinemas George Street, and Sunday 19 June, 8.15pm, Event Cinemas George Street.