The fourth film from Bosnian director Danis Tanović, and his third since his debut feature No Man’s Land took home the Cannes Film Festival best screenplay award in 2001 and the best foreign language Oscar in 2002, Cirkus Columbia unravels military and family instability on the eve of the conflict that rocked Herzegovina in the 1990s. Following the journey of exiled Divko Buntic (Miki Manojlovic, Irina Palm) upon his return to his home town after a 22 year absence, the comedic yet dramatic offering explores the impact his arrival has on his abandoned family, with long-suffering wife Lucija (Mira Furlan, TV’s Lost) and adult son Martin (Boris Ler, Some Other Stories) thrown into disarray by the presence of his new, younger girlfriend Azra (Jelena Stupljanin, The Ambulance) and adored black cat Bonny. With conflict simmering in the void left by communism, and two decades of opposition unable to be overcome, the attempts to repair the fractured family dynamic are tainted by the certainty of impending war. The resulting examination of the personal toll of political unrest is slow-moving yet sensitive and intimate yet intriguing, painting a powerful portrait of love and loyalty – aptly illustrated by the connection with Bonny the cat that provides the feature’s undercurrent of emotion – against the odds.
Athina Rachel Tsangari’s acclaimed sophomore feature Attenberg is the latest effort to emerge in the revitalisation of Greek cinema, a movement the writer / director herself characterised as filmmakers making features collectively for their colleagues in her brief introduction before the festival screening. Delving into the world of uncertain 23-year old Marina (Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup best actress winner Ariane Labed, in her first film role) as she traverses the void between her thoughts and her feelings in exploring anatomy and affection, the measured movie charts the voyage of a young woman learning to progress from internalising to externalising as a way of processing the occurrences around her. With Marina’s emotional awakening prompted by the illness of her father (Giorgos Lanthimos, the filmmaker behind the thematically similar Dogtooth), encouraged by her confident best friend Bella (Evangelia Randou, Kinetta) and nurtured by her sexual bond with Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis, With Heart & Soul), the film follows her journey from mimicking her surroundings – and the actions prevalent in the animal kingdom, as glimpsed in David Attenborough nature documentaries – to being emboldened enough to experience and express her own desires. Heightened by striking performances from the mostly inexperienced cast, and an impressive sense of aesthetic from Tsangari that warrants comparison to the works of Sofia Coppola, the contemplative and quietly compelling film mirrors the protagonists path from the curious to the creative.
As well as gaining access to the very best and brightest of contemporary international cinema, part of the joy of the festival experience is discovering forgotten gems, overlooked offerings, and films that have inexplicably sat on the shelf for much too long. First time writer / director Eli Craig’s Tucker & Dale Vs Evil is one such example, with the film making an appearance at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and also featuring on the SXSW bill the same year, yet remaining unreleased outside of the festival circuit everywhere except Kazakhstan, Russia, Estonia and Lithuania eighteen months later. The unwillingness of major distributors to embrace the quirky Canadian comedy is quite confounding, with the uproarious and inventive effort an amusing and anarchic delight from start to finish. Pitting the titular Appalachian dwellers (Transformers: Dark Of The Moon’s Alan Tudyk and serial television supporting player Tyler Labine) against a gang of judgemental college kids on a camping trip (including 30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden as an open-minded beauty thrust into peril from an unexpected source, and The Uninvited’s Jesse Moss as a trigger happy frat boy obsessed with a previous massacre in the area), it subverts the conventions of the splatter genre to provide a playful paradigm shift of the oft-used (as seen in everything from 2000 Maniacs to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) evil hillbilly premise, proving that appearances can be deceiving as well as deadly.
A constant presence in the Australian and international film industries courtesy of a barrage of on and off screen roles (including stunt work on Dark City, Mission: Impossible II, the Star Wars prequels and Sydney Film Festival closing night feature Beginners, directing The Square and acting in Macbeth), Nash Edgerton has also paved a considerable career path as a short filmmaker. Bear marks his latest foray into the briefer format, in a blackly comic skit that examines the impact of good intentions taken a step too far. Starring Edgerton alongside I Am Number Four’s Teresa Palmer and Samson And Delilah director Warwick Thornton, the eleven minute effort returns to the character of Jack introduced in Spider four years earlier. Exploring the other side of domestic bliss, the 2011 Cannes Film Festival short film Palme d’Or nominee makes the most of its short running time, adding a wicked twist that ties in with the titular animal.
For more news and reviews from the Sydney Film Festival, check out our coverage of previous days of the 2011 event: