Jun 052015


A huge thanks to Shaun Heenan for agreeing to put together this diary. For instant film reactions, you can follow Shaun on Twitter. – [Ed]

Each year, Sydney Film Festival director Nashen Moodley and his staff craft a pair of programs for Subscribers, who can opt for either the Daytime pass or the Night pass. These tickets can only be purchased before the year’s program is announced, so we subscribers are putting our festival fate in Nashen’s (very capable) hands. Both passes cover the entire competition, but the remaining films are a grab-bag of titles carefully arranged to lead viewers through several intriguing corners of the Sydney Film Festival’s vast program.

This year I’ll be viewing all of the 34 films on the Daytime Subscription, and posting my thoughts on each of them right here. Stay tuned over the course of the Festival for the highlights, a few inevitable lowlights, and my eventual complete exhaustion after eleven days of proscribed viewing.

The program began on Thursday the 4th of June with variety of international films. In fact, at the end of day one, daytime subscribers are yet to see a film in the English language.

It is perhaps a little cruel to open the festival with a film as sad as MY LOVE, DON’T CROSS THAT RIVER, beautiful though it is. This Korean documentary follows an elderly couple, still completely entranced by each other after 76 years of marriage. They play like giddy children, taking a break from shovelling a path to have a snowball fight. Unfortunately, as a 98-year-old man, Jo Byeong-man’s health is not what it once was. The film introduces us to the ultimate cute couple, and then watches silently as the aging husband’s hacking cough tells us what is coming. It’s a difficult film to watch, but it’s probably worth taking the journey for a number of joyful and touching moments along the way. It’s a portrait of a pair of lives well-lived.

The program then shifted to Guatemala for day one’s highlight, THE VOLCANO. The film takes place at the meeting point between traditional beliefs and modern complications. In a small mountain village, young Maria has been told she is to marry the son of a local farm owner. Maria has other ideas, as she’s busy discovering love (or at least sex) with another local boy. The family prays to the spirit of a volcano for advice. All the while, the hulking presence of the United States looms over the village. Many of the characters dream of escaping to this land of untold riches to the North, where easily found employment will solve all of their problems. If only they knew. It’s a strongly plotted look at Guatemalan culture with an impressive lead performance from young Maria Mercedes Coroy, and the landscape on display is absolutely beautiful.

On the other end of the scale we find the baffling Russian film THE POSTMAN’S WHITE NIGHTS. Director Andrei Konchalovsky has a strong history in film. He worked as a screenwriter on early Andrei Tarkovsky films including IVAN’S CHILDHOOD and ANDREI RUBLEV before directing his own films including RUNAWAY TRAIN and, more recently, the disastrous THE NUTCRACKER IN 3D. The nut cracks again with his new film, which is flatly shot and appears to use only natural lighting, making it look surprisingly ugly. The plot follows a postman in a riverside town who uses a motorboat to make his rounds. He spends a lot of time looking at a mysterious cat, and grows hostile towards his friends when disaster befalls his working life. If my reading of the film is correct, this is another Government-funded Russian film decrying the Government’s abuse of the working class. The film looks particularly bad in the wake of the fantastic LEVIATHAN, but it fails on its own merits. Some ‘special’ effects work late in the film drew unintended giggles from the crowd.

Subscribers closed out the day with Xavier Beavois’ dark French comedy THE PRICE OF FAME. The plot (which is so batty it could only have been based on a true story) involves a pair of friends who find themselves in need of money and decide the easiest way to get rich is to exhume and ransom the corpse of the recently deceased Charlie Chaplin. Really. The film finds time for some sweet moments of bonding between one of the thieves and the other’s young daughter. We also spend a significant amount of time watching circus clowns in training. The film is too long and the laughs are too rare for this to truly work, but I’m glad to be aware of the story.

Tomorrow I’ll look at another four films, including the new Michael Fassbender western and the first film in the Official Competition.

By Shaun Heenan