A Mixed Bag of Celluloid

in 12nd Brisbane International Film Festival

by Ruth Hessey

Caught between an embalmed spring and kundalini rising, this year’s FIPRESCI jury at the Brisbane International Festival encountered an extremely mixed bag of celluloid. The standards of style and content varied wildly, from Australian contender, “Getting Squared” (a noisy rip-off of d-grade American gangster films set on a Gold Coast populated by garish cariacatures), to the empassioned if rough-diamond “Small Voices” (from the Phillipines).

“Small Voices” (directed by Gil M. Portes), with its school room echoes of darker political realities, was one of the few films to wring tears from most audiences, while “Together”, Chen Kaige’s much more opulent lament for the sacrifices of a hip-new-China’s superceded peasantry (also a tear jerker), was a slight disappointment to fans hoping for a return to high form after the disasterous “Killing Me Softly”. It is nevertheless a heartfelt Capra-esque piece, with a small cameo appearance by the director.

Certainly the stupefying combination of karaoke, excess alcohol, and young flesh in South Korea was well documented in both “Jealousy Is My Middle Name” (an impressive feature debut from Park Chan-ok), and “Turning Gate” directed by Hong Sang-soo (the ultimate winner of this year’s FIPRESCI prize).

Landrights, another recurring theme, fuelled “Somewhere Over the Dreamland” (Taiwan), a meandering study of indigenous longing for paradise lost, as well as “Small Voices” and “Bird Man Tale” (from Indonesia, shot in Irian Jaya). Directed by Garin Nugroho, this vivid, confusing, but somehow electric portrait of a stone age culture in the process of contemporary meltdown, introduced a marvellous swag of tropical colours, and some arresting ariel shots to darkened cinemas.

“This Is My Land”, from India, starring Deepa Mehta’s favourite film star, Nandita Das, was a beautifully shot, almost luscious ache for simple village life in a society fractured by new wealth and changing values. “Shadow Kill”, a coproduction between France and India, directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan presented another sensual if relentless tale of an executioner wracked by guilt, over the execution of an innocent man.

“Japanese Story”, from Australia, made a vivid impression with stunning evocations of Australia’s pulsing red Central Desert, although character development strained for credibility at times, and Japanese characters offered more stereotypes than insights.

“Springtime In A Small Town”, the chief contender for top honours, ran neck and neck with “Turning Gate”. On the one hand, the work of a mature artist, (“a perfect film” in the words of jury member Chris Fujiwara; “the film which above all I respect” said jury member Kenichi Okubo), “Springtime in A Small Town” represented beautifully controlled high art. With the DOP from Wong Kar Wai’s exquisite “In The Mood For Love”, and the production designer from Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, veteran director Xiao Cheng Zhi Chun exhibited the chops (and the moxie) to risk stifling interiors and a deathly slow camera style, in his exploration of lovers so constrained, so repressed, their passion barely breathes through the wax. On the other, almost diametrically opposed in style and content, the bright, subtle “Turning Gate” (sweeping its own “new wave” through a society from which all traditional constraints between sexes have been recently rendered irrelevant), demanded recognition for bold choices and a deftly woven plot.