Brisbane International Film Festival: Day 5

Sarah Ward November 10, 2010 0

Yes, we’ve reached that time already. After an exceptional range of films on day 1, day 2, day 3 and day 4 of the 19th annual Brisbane International Film Festival we approach the halfway mark on day 5, with Australian rom-com The Wedding Party, Mexican cannibal thriller We Are What We Are, and powerful prison drama Dog Pound.

Amanda Jane’s debut effort The Wedding Party – the opening night film of the 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival – follows the pattern of BIFF films that have been seen previously at counterparts interstate (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Heartbeats, and Enter The Void are others). Sitting comfortably between I Love You Too and Better Than Sex in terms of content and context, the ensemble feature (with a cast that includes Brisbane boy and BoyTown actor Josh Lawson, The Waiting City‘s Isabel Lucas, Wilfred‘s Adam Zwar, City Homicide‘s Nadine Garner, South Solitary‘s Essie Davis, Wolf Creek‘s Kestie Morassi, singer Rhonda Burchmore, stalwart Bill Hunter, and more of Hell Has Harbour Views‘ Steve Bisley than anyone might want to see) provides an average romp in the local romantic comedy genre, with broad humour and silly sex gags the blatant name of the game.

As tends to be the case with offerings of the type, relationships are under the spotlight in The Wedding Party. Delving into the lives and loves of a clan of curious Melbourne characters, everyone is either in a relationship (with varying degrees of success), wanting to be in one, or making a mess getting out. At the centre is Steve (Lawson), a thirty-something battler deserving of the description “down on his luck”. His business is going bust, the banks are looking to repossess his home, and his romance with Jacqui (Morassi) has hit a flat spot. Enter Ana (Lucas), a Russian refugee with a money for matrimony proposal to help Steve with his woes. Taking the plunge against his better judgement, Steve’s quickie wedding plans are thwarted when his family discovers the impending nuptials, with the sudden surprise leading all and sundry to reassess their own romances. The resulting film comprises a small step in the right direction (thanks to a handful of genuinely funny lines) compared to the usual Aussie rom-coms, however unfortunately it presents nothing new.

The Wedding Party does not currently have an Australian theatrical release date, however it is expected in local cinemas in 2011.

Anyone who is familiar with my admiration for the rightfully acclaimed Let The Right One In will be aware that I do not say this lightly, however Mexican effort We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) has the potential to have the same effect on the little-seen cannibal sub-genre of horror that the above-mentioned Swedish vampire film had upon the cinematic niche of bloodsucking fiends (or [REC] had on zombie films, for that matter). Exploring themes as diverse and interconnected as the bonds of family, the plight of poverty, the restrictions of rituals, the specifics of Mexican society, and the consequences of cannibalism within a premise of life and death proportions, writer / director Jorge Michel Grau’s dark debut feature is an intelligent, haunting and moving examination of a relentless struggle for survival, pitched from an unlikely, alternative, and surprisingly poignant and powerful perspective.

When their father fails to return home from a hunting trip (one much more sinister than the type that immediately springs to mind), Sabina (Paulina Gaitán, Sin Nombre) and her brothers Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro, Together) and Julien (the sadly deceased Alan Chávez) are left at a loss. With their shattered mother (Carmen Beato, Tides Of Sand) unable to provide for them, the slum-dwelling siblings are forced to find their own food source; however, locating something to eat is much more complex than simply scavenging for scraps or asking for handouts, with humans the staple item in their non-traditional diet. Attracting the attention of local law enforcement as they attempt to secure sustenance, the trio fights to save their floundering family amidst the ever-present threat of exposure. Accordingly, Grau’s film offers a probing satire that challenges preconceptions – of its genre, subject and protagonists (bearing similarities to 2009 BIFF feature Van Diemen’s Land, albeit in a different context) – in a feature that ranks up there with the year’s and the genre’s best.

We Are What We Are screens again on November 13, 2010 at the Brisbane International Film Festival.

Like the great jailhouse films of years gone by (not to mention HBO’s outstanding series Oz), the notion of survival at any cost also underpins Dog Pound, swapping slums and streets for the supposed safety of the penitentiary system. Following three adolescent inmates – angry and defensive Butch (scene-stealer Adam Butcher, TV’s Privileged), laidback joker Davis (Shane Kippel, Degrassi: The Next Generation) and introverted outcast Angel (Mateo Morales, Warehouse 13) – under the watch of veteran guard Goodyear (Lawrence Bayne, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’), Kim Chapiron’s documentary-style sophomore effort (after 2006′s Sheitan) tracks the integration of troubled teens into a system designed to rehabilitate under the best of intentions, but executed with a lack of care to punish and prohibit.

From opening scenes depicting the crimes the central characters committed to earn their place within the walls of the Enola Vale Youth Correctional Centre in Montana (possession of narcotics with intent to re-sell, robbery and auto-theft, and assault on a correctional officer) Dog Pound announces itself as a violent and vehement exploration its content. Charting the beatings and bullying of fresh meat by bigger fish, the hypnotic rhythm of monotonous, mindless daily chores, and the soul-crushing suppression of any form of individuality, the feature offers a harrowing, heart-wrenching look inside the hell of a juvenile detention facility. Although not for the weak-willed (indeed, the level of graphic imagery surpasses that of the much more controversial Enter The Void), the film that unravels is of the riveting, must-see kind. Both brutal and tragic, the largely improvised Dog Pound is an authentically portrayed, extensively researched piece that confronts a tough topic, condemns the unjust prison system, compels viewing, but never condescends.

Dog Pound does not currently have an Australian theatrical or DVD release date.

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

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