Jun 092015


Imagine my surprise when I walked into the State Theatre this morning to find it swarming with children. I’d forgotten that our animated film today would be one of the only sessions at the whole festival which allows entry by under-18s. The kids were better behaved than their parents, with one mother needing to be told off towards the end of the film for taking multiple photos of the screen.

The film was the absolutely marvelous SONG OF THE SEA. Irish director Tomm Moore came to my attention in early 2010 when he earned a surprise Oscar nomination for THE SECRET OF KELLS. That was a wonderful film, and SONG OF THE SEA is even better, deservedly earning a second Oscar nomination. His films remind me of the creativity shown by Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki.

The film tells the mythology-laden story of a young girl who transforms into a seal-like creature called a Selkie, and her older brother who learns to care for her despite strong initial resistance. They travel from their small island home through a world inhabited by magical creatures, accompanied by one of the cutest dogs in cinema history.

The film is spectacularly animated. Characters have huge, expressive round eyes, and the creatures they encounter along the way acted as a direct injection of joy into the audience every time they appeared. I’m not just talking about the kids, either. The adults were in awe. It’s a feeling that never really lets up. This film is staggeringly, overwhelmingly beautiful. It is nigh-impossible to overstate how good it looks, and the story is an emotional ride to match. SONG OF THE SEA is the whole package. It’s one of the best movies playing at the Sydney Film Festival.

The second film subscribers saw today was Bill Condon’s MR. HOLMES, which is yet another story about the legendary detective, played perfectly by Ian McKellen. In this film, though, Holmes has long-since retired. He’s 93 years old, living with a weary housemaid (Laura Linney) and raising a colony of bees. It’s a quieter tale than is usual for the detective, and the main puzzle he needs to solve is the mystery of what exactly happened in his final case. Age has stripped him of the finer points of the memory.

The film is at its best when it’s not bothering with the plot. Moments where Holmes acts as a mentor for his housekeeper’s hero-worshipping son are often both amusing and touching. Holmes has retained his wit, and the movie gets a lot of mileage out of its smart dialogue. Unfortunately, the plot drags the film down awfully when it kicks in. The answers are all very unsatisfying, and the movie concludes with one of the silliest bee-related scenes since the Nicolas Cage version of THE WICKER MAN. This is a shame, because there is much to recommend here. MR. HOLMES is a near miss, and all the more disappointing for how close it came to working.

Tomorrow, we’re back to the big-time. Subscribers will be seeing four films, including two more competition entries. I’m particularly looking forward to the documentary SHERPA, which I’ve heard nothing but positivity about.


By Shaun Heenan