At the film festival

June long weekend each year marks the beginning of the Sydney Film Festival.

Because of the time of year and main venue, this festival is always associated in my mind with well-rugged-up crowds at the State Theatre. Black is big.

At the risk of repeating myself (see the link above) a big part of the attraction for me in this festival is seeing a film inside the State Theatre. The view is probably better downstairs or even in the Mezzanine Level, but the feeling is best if you are upstairs in the circle when there is a full house. It’s all to do with the crowd dynamics.

Sometimes different parts of the theatre react differently. At one point this year there was an odd moment when the people in the stalls all laughed at something and we caught their laughter from afar in a less-laughing dress circle.

It’s a few years since I managed the full, film-binge experience and even then it was a pale shadow of what the true afficianandos submit themselves to. This year I went to four films, one of which (sadly) was at a more anonymous modern cinema. As I am going away this weekend, that’s my festival for this year.

These are the films:

Amour – a harrowing account of an elderly Parisian couple whose relationship is tested (as they say) when the wife has a stroke and her husband undertakes to care for her at home as her health steadily and dramatically deteriorates. This is a bit close to the bone for people my age as it fairly unfinchingly depicts stuff that we all know happens and which we increasingly see happening to our parents, their friends and our contemporaries’ parents and which may well happen to us in due course, but which we don’t generally care to dwell on. I’m not going to suggest to my parents that they go and see it.

Amour won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes film festival, so were it not for the experience of seeing it at the State I could probably have waited for a local release.

Once upon a time in Anatolia – a Turkish police procedural – an account of an overnight expedition by police, a prosecutor and a doctor into the countryside with two suspects in search of a corpse and then its retrieval. Pretty slow but fascinating: almost imperceptible plot but rich in texture and conversations on a multitude of topics in the “My Dinner with Andre” tradition. David and Margaret gave it four and a half stars but Margaret did point out that it is 2 hours and 37 minutes.

These two were both pretty slow: you are meant to feel this pace as part of the “art.”

Eleven Flowers” or 我十一 (Wǒ Shíyī = me at eleven or I was 11). Chinese film a bit in the “Little Chinese Seamstress” tradition though rather less picturesque, based apparently on an incident in the film-maker’s childhood when with his family he was living in a kind of internal exile in the provinces. D comments that most of this sort of thing is for foreigners only (it was, it seems, a French co-production) and dismisses it as 文化革命– chic, in this case a child’s-eye view. Some of the acting was a bit wooden and acting and plot tended to be mawkish. Probably the weakest film of the bunch though not without charm, even if that relied on having four small boys as the main characters.

Barbara (2) – this was my favourite, though it too could be said to be part of a post-Communist genre, here dealing with the former East Germany, though it was far from being Ostalgic. In this case, the titular Barbara is a doctor who has been banished from Berlin to a provincial hospital after having applied to emigrate to the west. She comes under surveillance (though rather less high-tech than that in The Lives of Others) which she successfully evades whilst making arrangements with her western lover to get away. Meanwhile, distractions arise in the form of a rather cuddly fellow doctor (who is keeping an eye on her on behalf of the Stasi) and the demands of her patients. As in Once upon a time [etc] this film assumes a special moral position for the physician. This seems to me to be a literary tradition, especially in relation to life in the provinces (I first wrote Chekhovian here then wondered if I was just making that up, but have since noticed that Helen Garner makes the same association in The Monthly so on the strength of her lit-cred I guess I wasn’t just making that up or misremembering.)  It’s a position sometimes accorded to school teachers. Few think so well of lawyers and anyway they rarely stray far from town. Turgenev’s The District Doctor also qualifies for an allusion in the course of Barbara.

I enjoyed this film the most because not only did it have a feel for and recapture Osti aesthetics (I made some friends in East Berlin in 1987 and spent some time in the former east shortly after 1989, so I could recognize the design tropes) but also because it had a real plot, even though this entailed a certain romantic implausibility for the concomitant twist.

My next wintry diversion, coming up shortly, will be the quadrennial SIPCA – the Sydney “International” Piano Competition. (The A stands for “Australia.”) The competitors have been selected and some of the jurors announced. More of that later, I expect.

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