Brisbane International Film Festival: Day 9

Sarah Ward November 13, 2010 0

That’s right folks, the 19th annual Brisbane International Film Festival is close to an end. With an exciting array of films on offer on the penultimate day of the event (including the delightful comedy I Love You Phillip Morris, and encore screenings of North, The Illusionist, Pink Saris, Howl, Enter The Void, Welcome To The Rileys, and We Are What We Are), we take a look at confronting Cannes Caméra d’Or winner Leap Year, Entourage star Adrian Grenier’s documentary Teenage Paparazzo, Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, and political thriller Fair Game.

Not to be confused with the awful Amy Adams rom-com of the same name (indeed, it is highly unlikely that the audiences for each would ever overlap, critics aside), Leap Year (Año bisiesto) is far from your average film. The recipient of significant controversy at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival – with seasoned cinephiles walking out during the screening, even though the feature went on to receive the coveted Caméra d’Or for best first film (the very same award that Samson And Delilah won the previous year) – the debut offering from Australian writer / director Michael Rowe observes the violent downward spiral of a lonely, self-destructive young woman. Intense and melancholy whilst pushing the boundaries of sexual perversions, sadomasochism and violence, the confronting piece explores the intersection of depression and depravity, marked by an astonishingly brave performance by Babel‘s Monica del Carmen in only her third film.

The life of Laura (del Carmen), a freelance writer living alone in Mexico City, is desolate to say the least. Yearning for the type of human connection unable to be gleaned from vaguely argumentative phone calls with her mother, fleeting visits from her brother (Marco Zapata, The Ruination of Men), and voyeuristic glimpses of the neighbours, Laura pursues the physicality of an endless stream of one-night stands. When one particular lover (Gustavo Sánchez Parra, The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada) returns for a second encounter, the pair forge an unhealthy bond based more on violence than passion. As Laura marks off the days until the symbolic date of February 29th, their relationship takes a series of increasingly disturbing turns. Traversing the realm of the morally ambiguous, Leap Year unravels as a dark portrait of a tortured soul, with the narrative degenerating deep into uncharted territory. Brutal and explicit in content yet simple in style (Rowe’s static shots merely capture, rather than comment), the resulting feature is intriguing despite its shocking nature, in an uneven, uneasy and uncomfortable film.

Leap Year does not currently have an Australian theatrical or DVD release date.

Teenage Paparazzo is an interesting beast. It is directed by a celebrity (Adrian Grenier) famous for playing a celebrity (Vincent Chase on HBO’s Entourage), who also starred as a member of a celebrity entourage in an earlier film (Woody Allen’s aptly titled Celebrity, with Leonardo DiCaprio the focus of attention). As its object it puts 14-year-old photographer Austin Visschedyk – the teenage paparazzo of the title – front and centre, with the boy dreaming of, and becoming, a pseudo celebrity in his own right courtesy of the attention of Grenier’s film. Assembling a panel of experts to espouse their thoughts on the topic, it explores the broader subject of the public obsession with celebrity culture, perpetuated by the tabloid media, that enables the paparazzi to proliferate. And finally, it asks scores of other celebrities to participate and comment – including Entourage co-stars, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, Lindsay Lohan, Eva Longoria Parker, Whoopi Goldberg, Family Matters‘ star Jaleel White, and “global starlette and entrepreneur” (the film’s words and spelling, not mine) Paris Hilton.

Within this framework Grenier inserts himself into the story, documenting his initial fortuitous encounter with, and subsequent unintended encouragement of, Austin’s dangerous profession. As his camera crew document the pair’s every move – from chatting about career options to chasing celebrity-filled cars (Grenier himself tries his hand at joining the paparazzi), staking out nightclubs to skateboarding to follow the latest tip – the film explores the rise and fall of a friendship that enables Austin’s actions, complete with the requisite reflections upon the physical, psychological, emotional, social and cultural consequences by the director and star. Accordingly, Teenage Paparazzo offers a fascinating and funny look at the insatiable triangular relationship between celebrities, the press and the public; however through the superficial and circular approach taken by Grenier (ironically succeeding in making a film that perpetuates the very point he is rallying against), it ultimately lacks depth.

Teenage Paparazzo is released on DVD on December 1, 2010.

The rock biopic genre is diverse and vast, ranging from the exquisite expertise of Anton Corbijn’s examination of Ian Curtis in Control to Oliver Stone’s pilloried Jim Morrison feature The Doors, the merging of fact with fiction in Todd Haynes’ underrated Bowie-esque Velvet Goldmine to the over-the-top nature of Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls Of Fire, and including the punk rock spirit of Gary Oldman in Sid And Nancy, as well as the restraint of Gus Van Sant’s fictionalised Kurt Cobain piece Last Days. In The Road to Guantanamo director Mat Whitecross’ Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, legendary, charismatic and venomous British New Wave ringleader Ian Dury gets the biopic treatment, in a lyrical, whimsical, and celebratory packaging of the noted performer and provocateur’s unique frenetic energy into a terrific and telling film.

With a creatively fractured narrative that shifts between vaudeville-style performances, flashbacks of childhood tragedies, and a chronicle of the most prominent stages of his life, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll examines the magic of Ian Dury (skillfully portrayed in a BAFTA-nominated turn by Andy Serkis, still best known as Gollum from The Lord Of The Rings trilogy). Still haunted by the impact of an early bout of polio, the menacing of an institution orderly (Toby Jones, Creation, and his relationship with his father (Ray Winstone, 44 Inch Chest), neglectful of his long-suffering wife (Olivia Williams, The Ghost Writer), dismissive of his son (Bill Miner, Son Of Rambow), and oblivious to his youthful girlfriend (Naomie Harris, Ninja Assassin), Dury’s life was one of extremes, drawing all and sundry into a pantomime of excess and belligerence. Imaginatively filmed by Whitecross based on Paul Viragh’s debut script, the film captures the inexplicable essence of the man whilst paying tribute to his significant artistic contribution. Frank, funny, farcical, frenzied, fantastical and quite a lot of fun, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll may present a familiar story, but it does so with plenty of style.

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll does not currently have an Australian theatrical or DVD release date.

Fair Game PosterThe second feature from the day 9 program that shares its name with an unlikely counterpart (the 1995 effort starring Billy Baldwin and Cindy Crawford – yes, supermodel Cindy Crawford – springs to mind), Fair Game also takes its inspiration from real life events. Based on the memoirs “Fair Game: My Life As A Spy, My Betrayal By The White House” by Valerie Plame and
“The Politics Of Truth” by Joseph Wilson, the film exposes the notorious Plame affair that rocked intelligence circles in 2003. A tale of political intrigue and dastardly machinations, Doug Liman’s latest unravels the lead up to, and aftermath of, the public naming of C.I.A. operative Plame as a covert agent by government sources, in response to her husband Wilson’s New York Times article attacking the decision to go to war in Iraq.

With The International‘s Naomi Watts and Milk Oscar-winner Sean Penn starring as Plame and Wilson (and turning in measured performances as always), Fair Game weaves international intrigue, personal promises, and chilling compromises into a slow-burning yet suspenseful story. Although the first half of the feature is primarily concerned with laying the foundations of the true tale as Plame and Wilson traverse the globe to investigate the apparent imminent threat of Iraqi nuclear proliferation, as the schematics of second half kick in Liman’s seventh film (his last being the sub-par Jumper) evolves to become a relatively rousing (albeit familiar) political thriller. Indeed, despite a stirring story, Fair Game cannot shake the sense of familiarity, particularly when compared with lower-profile 2008 offering Nothing But The Truth (a surprisingly touching fictionalised version of the same events). Whilst the truth is undoubtedly more compelling than fabrication, Fair Game is interesting viewing without excelling, solid storytelling without innovating, in a layered and limited drama.

Fair Game opens in Australian cinemas on November 25, 2010.

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

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