Sydney Film Festival – Day Four

Sydney Film Festival – Day Four. By Simon Miraudo.

It took a mere 80 hours in Sydney – 80! – to go from a reasonably healthy young man to a sickly, seemingly rickets-ridden mess. What’s to blame? Well, all this rain and cold doesn’t help (in Western Australia, we’ve grown accustomed to unseasonable warmth all year round, and although it can only be read as an indication of the Earth’s fragile ecosystem crumbling around us, it makes for nice T-shirt weather). The nose is runny, and the throat is sore. I don’t feel sorry for myself though; no one watching movie after movie at the 2011 Sydney Film Festival has the right to do so. Rather, I feel great shame over my weak mortal form. I feel like Julianne Moore in Safe, allergic to life itself (which is perhaps the only time it’s not a good thing to feel like Julianne Moore; seriously, she’s a gem). But fleshy shell be damned, there are movies to watch, and daily wrap-ups to write, so let’s take a look at what went on today at SFF.

Devastated by the thought of missing Kelly Reichardt’s new film Meek’s Cutoff due to a Quickflix-hosted bash (more on that later), I headed down to the ever-reliable SFF Media Center to check it out earlier in the day. Although a small-screen viewing was a betrayal of the film’s stunning vistas, a powerful piece of cinema remains just that when viewed in any capacity (except, like, if it’s projected onto the back of someone’s head –maybe don’t rule that out just yet). Michelle Williams leads an impressive cast of settlers wandering the desert looking for a “new Eden”, as promised by their tracker Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood). Although Meek may have once been a charismatic and convincing force, when we meet the group they are debating whether or not to hang him for leading them to certain death. They’ve no choice but to keep on trusting him and follow him into nothingness. But as their water supply dries up, so does their faith in their once infallible leader, and they make some desperate decisions that could either lead to salvation or unimaginable horror. This quiet and very slow moving picture resonated deeply with me. Seeing these people forced to confront their mortality at every turn and evaluate how long until their time runs out (at the end of each of their fruitless days) was an exhausting exercise, but a rewarding one. Ultimately, it’s a religious parable, in which men and women of faith meet death head on, and do some last minute soul-searching, wondering if their ‘deity’ was lying to them all along about that paradise he promised. As Williams’ settler says, “I don’t blame him for not knowing; I blame him for saying he did”. Even more heartbreaking is Meek’s comment later in the film: “We’re all just playing our parts. This was written long before.”

As a change of pace, I followed up Meek’s Cutoff with Phil Rosenthal’s documentary Exporting Raymond, which follows the executive producer of Everybody Loves Raymond’s attempt to bring his famed sitcom to Russia. Weirdly, it was the second documentary about Russia I’d seen in less than 24 hours. Crazy Sydney Film Festival! The film follows all the fish-out-of-water beats you’d expect, but its conventionality didn’t stand in the way of it being hilarious. The biggest laugh however came during the Q&A with Rosenthal at the conclusion of the film, when an audience member asked how he felt about transporting “right wing American trash” overseas, throwing in keywords like ‘Sarah Palin’ and ‘Starbucks’ and generally sounding like a crazy person. His question, first met with a perplexed expression from Rosenthal, was then received with resounding laughs and sarcastic claps from the rest of the audience. Although I suppose the dude should be commended for standing up for his opinion, he probably could have found a better way to pose the question than aggressively hurling empty symbols at the guest of honour. Still, that’s freedom of speech. I may think the guy is loco for choco puffs, but I will defend to the death his right to be so ‘in front of’ and at’ people.

The afternoon was interrupted by a hotel change (for administrative reasons too boring to share in this article; the very article in which I felt it would be riveting to open with a description of my sinus troubles). My new hotel is nice, thanks for asking, but the sink is square, and has no dip. So, the water just … stays there. No dip! Why would they possibly make a sink like that?!

Anyway, I quickly changed out of my cinema-going ‘don’t go near me’ hoodie and into my finest shirt-and-sweater combo for a Quickflix-hosted bash at the funky Grasshopper Bar, where I got to meet some of our lovely members as well as some of Sydney’s finest and politest film critics (Scott Henderson, Josh Wheatley and Mathieu Ravier, thanks again for letting me horn in on your turf). As they all headed down to the State Theatre for the debut of The Future (review here), I fled to Event Cinemas for a screening of Michael Winterbottom’s comedy The Trip. I was greeted with the longest line for a movie I’d ever seen in my life. After walking for what seemed like hours to the end of the queue, I exclaimed at my fellow back-of-the-liners how amazing it was so many people had come. No response. It’s like they could smell my Perthness. Hey! If I want people to pretend I don’t exist, I’ll just write another negative X-Men review. Hi-yo! (Weeps into own shirt…)

Anyway, The Trip stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (respectively); distorted versions of themselves who traipse around the north of England, partaking of its culinary delights on the dime of newspaper The Guardian. Originally a three hour/six-part TV show, it has been distilled to a 107-minute film for international distribution. Often hilarious, and surprisingly poignant, it’s a rich comedy that is able to mine Coogan and Brydon’s brilliant skills of imitation as well as comment on their careers-so-far. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll really want to eat nice food! Which reminds me; I haven’t eaten since breakfast, so if you don’t mind, I shall return to this curry I’ve been nursing. I bid you a pleasant evening, and hope that my corporeal form survives the night.

Imagine if I actually died during the night. Wouldn’t that be bleak?! Everyone would say, “And the last thing he wrote was that he hoped he didn’t die! Who could have imagined that his curry had been accidentally tainted by radiation and that the leftovers would grow arms and legs, climb over to the bed and choke him to death!”


Day One
Day Two
Day Three

Discuss: And how was your day?

One Response to “Sydney Film Festival – Day Four”

  1. Baha… no sink dip. Kirketon?

    Exporting Raymond was fantastic! As was The Trip! I wholeheartedly concur!

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