Brisbane International Film Festival: Day 10

Sarah Ward November 14, 2010 0

It has finally come down to this. After a fantastic, film-filled ten days, the 19th annual Brisbane International Film Festival has come to an end. In our final daily wrap up of the 2010 event, we take a look at four films from the last day of the program – a day that saw encore screenings of Bill Cunningham: New York, Certified Copy, Lebanon, Megamind and Blue Valentine, as well as Xavier Dolan’s debut effort I Killed My Mother, political cultural clash comedy The Red Chapel, the Australian premiere of Sofia Coppola’s Venice Golden Lion winning Somewhere, and John Woo co-directed kung fu epic Reign Of Assassins.

I Killed My Mother posterThe film that well and truly brought the French-Canadian wunderkind to international attention, I Killed My Mother (J’ai tue ma mere) provides a dynamite introduction to the work of multi-talented writer, director and actor Xavier Dolan (also responsible for fellow BIFF feature Heartbeats, the winner of the main prize at the 2010 Sydney Film Festival). Filmed when he was only 19, and the recipient of significant acclaim during the Director’s Fortnight program at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival (including three awards – the C.I.C.A.E. award, Prix Regards Jeune abd SACD prize) as well as achieving the status of Canada’s official submission for the 2009 best foreign language film Academy Award, the mature and insightful feature offers a witty examination of the paradoxically complex mother-son dynamic.

Although I Killed My Mother is actually concerned with a figurative act rather than a literal case of maternal homicide, the intent of the title rings true throughout. Constantly and contemptuously bickering with his single mother Chantale (Anne Dorval, also seen in Heartbeats) about his social life, her wardrobe, and all the other things that mothers argue over with their sons, precocious 16-year-old Hubert (Dolan) finally pushes the boundaries that sliver too far. Announcing to his kindly teacher (Suzanne Clément, It’s Not Me, I Swear!) that his mother is dead, his case of wishful thinking has unforeseen consequences when Chantale finds out. As the pair attempt to survive the nuances of their incompatible bond amidst secrets, lies and serious trust issues, the film muses upon that time in a child’s life when his parents are perceived more as a hindrance than a help. Poetic, anarchic and authentic (as anyone who has observed teenage males with their mothers can contend), I Killed My Mother is an accomplished, attentive and audacious effort on adolescence that – even more so than his sophomore feature – announces Dolan as a filmmaking sensation to watch.

I Killed My Mother does not currently have an Australian theatrical release date, however it is expected in local cinemas in 2011.

For more views and opinions on I Killed My Mother, read our full review from my colleague Richard Gray.

Billed as “Michael Moore meets Bruno” in the BIFF catalogue (with comparisons to Borat also apt), Sundance best foreign documentary-winning Danish effort The Red Chapel (Det Røde Kapel) is a strange affair. A chronicle of writer / director Mads Brügger’s trip to North Korea to put on a theatre performance alongside Korean-born, Danish-adopted comedians Jacob Nossell (physically disabled and mostly wheelchair bound) and Simon Jul, the comedic offering is part satire, part statement, and part spectacle, in an alternatively absurd and amusing film (based on the Danish TV series of the same name). Attempting to provoke the expected reaction to their foreign status and Jacob’s handicap, in between rehearsals for their unorthodox play the trio traverse the streets of the set piece city of Pyongyang under the strict supervision of the patriotic Mrs. Pak. The scenes that eventuate are far from standard documentary fare, juxtaposing the restrictive regime with the progressive Danish attitude.

Indeed, although highly ambitious in content and in scope (with the stated aim to “expose the very core of evil that is North Korea”), political cultural clash comedy The Red Chapel is decidedly hit and miss. Whilst the usual “fish out of water” hijinks ensue and amuse, Brügger’s handling of the more serious elements – including the scathing social commentary – mirrors the conflicted nature of the comedians depicted within. Recognising the significant level of postmodern ideological irony that abounds throughout the feature, as well as the unprecedented footage that the director and his crew manage to capture of one of the least accessible areas of the globe (all vetted and approved by government officials), there still remains a level of unintentional discomfort that permeates the feature. Perhaps Brügger’s manipulation of his performers just goes that step too far (Jacob’s plight is particularly affecting), or maybe the obviously symbolic concept is not quite as clever as it thinks.

The Red Chapel does not currently have an Australian theatrical or DVD release date.

Ten years ago, back at my first ever BIFF (the year I finally made it over the age threshold, long before the innovative Cine Sparks program for under-18s came into existence), Sofia Coppola’s poignant debut feature The Virgin Suicides emerged as the highlight of my festival experience. Of course, it is only fitting that Coppola’s fourth work Somewhere has achieved similar status  amongst a diverse and varied array of features on offer a decade later,  in the Australian premiere of the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion-winning film. Starring Stephen Dorff in his finest role to date, and up-and comer Elle Fanning (younger sister of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse star Dakota)  punching above her weight, Coppola’s latest is sublime, sharp, sweet, stunning, superb and stylish. Offering a portrait of celebrity, identity, perception and reality that transcends conventions, the thematic companion to Coppola’s earlier Lost In Translation is tender and thoughtful, speaking to an attuned audience – and offering plenty to contemplate for those willing to listen.

A hard-living Hollywood star happy residing in a hotel, Johnny Marco (Dorff, so excellent in Backbeat, yet so sub-par in Steal) has little in the way of responsibility to complicate his life. Nameless blondes throw themselves at him, his minders provide the appropriate reminders, and parties seem to materialise in his wake. Only his eleven year old daughter Cleo (Fanning, The Door in the Floor) adds an element of reality to his existence, with their infrequent visits providing a link to normality not otherwise gleaned. When Cleo’s mother bestows primary care duties on Johnny for a few days, the growth of their relationship sparks a change in his mindset, one gradual but unmistakable in theme. Moody and melancholy, but imbued with an intimate, hopeful spirit, Somewhere resides in the same minimalistic and meditative space as her first three pieces, in an atmospheric and observational film. Impressive and naturalistic in all aspects from start to finish (the writing, directing and acting are each highlights, alongside the score from French pop rockers Phoenix), Somewhere is a resonant and restrained, disarming and delicate, and expressive and evocative effort that wrestles with Blue Valentine as my pick both of the festival, and of the year (stay tuned for a lengthier review closer to the film’s theatrical release).

Somewhere opens for general release on December 26, 2010.

The closing night offering of the 2010 BIFF program, Reign Of Assassins (Jianyu or 劍雨) fits neatly within the wuxia marital arts film genre. Co-directed by John Woo (Red Cliff) and writer Su Chao-Pin (Silk), it evokes the likes of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s House Of Flying Daggers in a spirited tale of rival assassins set during the Ming dynasty. Weaving a haughty heist of human remains into a narrative resplendent with philosophy, history and honour, the feature seeks to both entertain and engage. Alas, an uneven execution ensures the film lacks that something special, however purely in terms of impressively choreographed, suitably fast, furious and frenetic kung fu sequences , Reign Of Assassins is at the top of its game.

A master swordswoman with the nefarious Dark Stone gang, Drizzle (Kelly Lin, Mad Detective) is known far and wide for her 41-stroke water shedding technique. Sent to steal a corpse believed to have mystical powers, she succeeds in her task, killing the prime minister and his son (Xiaodong Guo, The Warlords) in the process. Fleeing the assassin way of life after an encounter with an enigmatic monk, Drizzle takes on the name and appearance of an ordinary villager. Now going by the name Zeng Jing (Michelle Yeoh, Sunshine), she falls in love with a messenger (Jung Woo-sung, The Good, The Bad, The Weird), however figures from her past have different ideas for her future. Absorbing but inconsistent, Reign Of Assassins is beautiful to watch but disjointed to follow. Courtesy of a messy script that leaps between clichés, characters and events without cohesion, the resulting feature looks the part – faring best in action sequences – but lags in quieter moments.

Reign Of Assassins does not currently have an Australian theatrical or DVD release date.

The Brisbane International Film Festival will return in 2011.

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