Brisbane International Film Festival: Day 4

Sarah Ward November 9, 2010 0

With day 1, day 2 and day 3 of the 19th annual Brisbane International Film Festival out of the way, let’s take a look at day 4 – including Polish crime thriller Mother Teresa Of Cats and Josh Fox’s topical documentary Gasland.

Although the title may inspire different sentiments (visions of cute cats immediately popped into my head upon reading the listing in the BIFF program), Polish feature Mother Teresa Of Cats (Matka Teresa od kotów) is far from the standard animal-themed film. Instead, adopting a narrative approach akin to that seen in Christopher Nolan’s Memento, first time director Pawel Sala deconstructs the sinister circumstances surrounding a shocking real-life crime – one that just happens to involve a victim more than a little fond of stray felines. Stepping back from the day of arrest to thirteen months prior to events, the moving story provides snippets of the lives of insurance saleswoman Teresa (Polish TV actress Ewa Skibinska), her military husband Hubert (Mariusz Bonaszewski, Chaos), and sons Artur (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Nightwatching) and Marcin (Filip Garbacz, Piggies). As we see the family shift in reverse from the broken unit of the present to the smiling faces of the past, an undercurrent of madness and menace permeates, courtesy of the corrupting influence of just one of their number.

Indeed, as the opening scenes demonstrate, the kindly mother of the title is not long for this world. A victim of an inexplicable crime at the hands of her progeny, her final days, weeks and months unravel, spiralling from mirth to murder. That Teresa can’t bear to pass by a meowing kitten in distress only serves to heighten the disparity between her nature (optimistic and oblivious, even in the face of signs to the contrary) and that of the sons she nurtured (one convinced of his own extraordinary abilities, the other too naive and idolatry to think to act against his big brother’s wishes). Accordingly, Sala’s frightening feature clinically captures the downfall of traditional values, with empathy giving way to apathy and community giving way to cruelty as the boys’ descent from happy-go-lucky to homicidal worsens. An intimate film despite its unpleasant subject, and one thoughtfully rendered from shot to shot, Mother Teresa Of Cats offers a portrait of a family in despairing decline, suitably and hauntingly characterised by the oft-repeated line “the cats are screwed”.

Mother Teresa Of Cats does not currently have an Australian theatrical or DVD release date.

If An Inconvenient Truth was the environmental documentary on everyone’s lips circa 2006 and 2007, The Burning Season the oft-spoken about hit of the 2008 festival circuit (including BIFF), and The Cove the conversation topic of 2009 (not to mention a highlight of the BIFF program that year), then get ready to start talking about the 2010 equivalent, Gasland. On one level a story of a man with a house in the woods, and on another a terrifying tale of the consequences of corporate control of our energy supplies, the thought-provoking, eye-opening, mobilising and inspiring feature not only lifts the lid on a topic closer to Australia than we might think (particularly in BIFF’s home state of Queensland, with the State Government just hours ago approving a significant liquefied natural gas project in Gladstone, whilst a new coal seam gas carcinogen scare rears its head in Mackay), but forces the audience to confront an issue potentially pertinent to the future of health and wellbeing of our species.

A personal exploration of a little known subject with broad implications, Josh Fox’s Sundance special jury prize winning feature is substantive, scary and simply must-see. With hydraulic fracturing the current trend of the energy sector worldwide, Fox details his own swift introduction – courtesy of the lure of $100,000 to sign away drilling rights to his land – to the pros and cons of the natural gas extraction technique, the outcomes of his investigation providing the perfect fodder for a horror movie (hint, unless you’re a multinational corporation in the industry, it’s all bad news). Think drinking water the colour and clarity of night, faucets streaming with fire, illnesses bordering on inexplicable, and a total lack of regard for human safety that is so disturbing it should be criminal. To say any more would ruin the exhaustive and educational Gasland experience, with debut documentarian Fox particularly adept at fusing facts, interviews, and heartbreaking footage with the details of his own plight. A documentary uniquely attuned to the current environmental plight of this great nation (as explored in detail in a thoroughly informative question and answer session with Fox, a guest at BIFF, after the screening), Gasland is comprehensive, compelling, and utterly compulsory viewing material.

Gasland opens in Australian cinemas on November 18, 2010, with advance screenings in selected theatres from November 12 – 14.

The Brisbane International Film Festival continues until November 14, 2010.

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