The feature film debut of award winning Australian author Julia Leigh (“The Hunter” and “Disquiet”) under the mentorship of Academy Award recipient Jane Campion (The Piano), Sleeping Beauty is far removed from Charles Perrault’s fairytale, Tchaikovsky’s ballet and the Disney animated effort that share the same name. Instead, the first time writer / director delves into an enigmatic and ethereal world of eroticism and ennui in the same vein as Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, in a mysterious musing on life, death and sex. Following the exploits of stoic university scholar Lucy (Emily Browning, The Uninvited, in her finest performance to date) as she cycles through an empty series of average and enterprising jobs (medical testing, waitressing, office filing) to support her studies, and shares stilted experiences with friends and lovers (aggressive housemates, an addicted old friend, cordial colleagues and a parade of one night stands), the film depicts her shadowy initiation into a new line of employment. Under the tutelage of Clara (Rachael Blake, Tom White), the enterprising ingenue exploits her unique beauty for the benefit of high class clients, with the intimate and intricate encounters evolving from the strange to the surreal in a manner shared by the stylish and seductive yet puzzling and pretentious feature.\
German director Werner Herzog has crafted a career based on his interest in both factual and fictional storytelling, ranging from documentaries (Grizzly Man) to features (Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call – New Orleans), and including complimentary projects that combine elements of both (Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Rescue Dawn, for example). Cave Of Forgotten Dreams represents his tenth full length account of actual events and continues his probing of history and humankind, exploring the inner world of the famous Chauvet Cave in southern France. Given unprecedented access to an area inaccessible to all but a handful of scientists since its discovery in the days leading up to Christmas in 1994, Herzog and his small team (comprised of a cinematographer, sound recordist and assistant only) capture the magnificence of the earliest known cave paintings on the planet, committed to the cave walls by upper paleolithic man more than 30,000 years ago. Consulting with scientists, archaeologists, paleontologists, geologists, historians and other experts in an attempt to understand the considerable significance of the many pristine murals resplendent with markers of movement and meaning, the enthusiastic auteur ponders the essence of humanity in his poetic prose and perceptive presentation, in a moving, mesmersing, informative and even amusing experience that suffers only from its wholly unnecessary use of the third dimension.
English actor Paddy Considine is renowned for his on screen prowess courtesy of a career in films such as 24 Hour Party People, In America and Dead Man’s Shoes, as well as Hot Fuzz, The Bourne Ultimatum and The Red Riding Trilogy, however Tyrannosaur marks his first full-length effort behind the lens. Drawing upon his 2007 short Dog Together, the actor turned writer / director re-teams with Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1’s Peter Mullan, Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee’s Olivia Corman and The Trip’s Paul Popplewell to tell the visceral and violent story of two people cast into the roles of villain and victim in their own lives, yet transcending those bounds in their connection to each other. With Mullan at his consummate best as the afflicted and aggressive Joseph, and Corman demonstrating both tenderness and toughness as the tortured Hannah, the uncompromising yet commanding effort explores the truth and tragedy that lies behind the constructed facade of even the most imposing and innocuous of people. Hailing Considine as a force to watch in the filmmaking as well as acting spheres courtesy of his cultivated eye and effortless aesthetic flair, Tyrannosaur is a harrowing journey through the problems of ordinary Britons, as well as a hopeful message of the resilience of the human spirit.
Comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have enjoyed fruitful careers both separately and together, with the former well known for his work in I’m Alan Partridge and Saxondale, the latter beloved courtesy of his role in Gavin & Stacey, and their combined efforts including Tristram Shandy: A Cock And Bull Story and 24 Hour Party People. Along with director Michael Winterbottom (The Killer Inside Me), the duo re-teamed as fictionalised versions of themselves for BBC television comedy The Trip, with a shortened offering released worldwide in feature film format. Charting the travels of the odd couple pair as they traverse the north of England on a tour of infamous eateries (meant to be shared by Coogan and his gourmand American girlfriend, who dropped out at the last minute forcing Brydon in as an uncomfortable replacement), it follows in the footsteps of the pairing of all three and the skewering of the public / private divide of celebrities glimpsed in the earlier Tristram Shandy. However, with their personalities rather than the story allowed to shine in the amusing and insightful feature, the actors are emboldened to improvise witty bickering and banter about encroaching age, unsatisfying careers and impressive impersonations, in a superb and sparkling comedy that divides its time between epicurean delights headed for the stomach and emotive affairs of the heart.
Many features have employed the film within a film device, from François Truffaut’s Day For Night to Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, the latter installments of Wes Craven’s Scream franchise to Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and Spike Jonze’s Adaptation to J.J. Abrams’s Super 8. Actress turned director Icíar Bollaín’s (Rage) intriguing Even The Rain (Meme La Pluie) does so within the purpose of political instability in Bolivia, juxtaposing the efforts of the fictional crew in bringing the story of Christopher Columbus to the screen with the water privatisation crisis tearing apart the poor community of Cochabamba in the early part of the twenty-first century. At the centre of the struggle sit three men – filmmaker Sebastian (Gael García Bernal, Letters To Juliet), his enterprising producer Costa (Luis Tosar, The Limits Of Control) and their local leading man Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri, El padre, la madre, el perro y sus hermanos) – each with different aims for the production, and each with divergent understandings of the increasingly dire protests against the government seizure of water supplies (“even the rain”, a demonstrator cries). As the events unravel in tandem, the multi-faceted offering effortlessly – albeit obviously – explores the ethics of historical and modern treatment of the native populace, in a noble if not nuanced human drama.
The Sydney Film Festival continues until June 19, 2011.
For more news and reviews from the Sydney Film Festival, check out our coverage of previous days of the 2011 event: