Towards a Renaissance of the Glorious Seventies Kirill Razlogov Considers Australia's Film Industry at the Adelaide Film Festival

in 3rd Adelaide Film Festival

by Kirill Razlogov

The third edition of the Adelaide Film Festival in South Australia invited a strange comparison between Australian and Russian cinemas. Even if it did not have the word “International” attached to its name, the festival featured a program of New Russian Cinema (among other foreign films, mostly prize-winners from major film festivals), but the core of the selection consisted of world premieres of new domestic films co-produced by the festival itself, whose administration manages also an investment fund.

Both parts of the program, interesting as they could be, created an uncomfortable feeling of nostalgia: Where the hell is the great cinema of the 1970s and early 1980s that distinguished both Soviet and Australian film cultures?

The opening Australian film (and one of the best, in my opinion), Lucky Miles by Michael James Rowland, was indeed following the tradition of nature-oriented social studies, linking environmental, cultural and political issues. The peregrination of an Indonesian sailor and two immigrants — one Cambodian, one Iraqi — seeking asylum through the open spaces of the sixth continent was told with a queer combination of tragedy and humor that shocked some Australian colleagues, as the comic episodes mostly concerned a small army patrol charged with apprehending (but in fact rescuing) the would-be refugees. For all its qualities, the film obviously lacked the mystical and philosophical dimension of the classic films of Peter Weir, for example.

The same can be said about The Island (Ostrov) by Pavel Lungin — the Russian domestic religious sensation, if we compare it with the spiritual power of Andrei Tarkovsky’s work.

The key to the deception in most of the cases is the impression of profoundly marginal projects, where the predecessors have obviously been world-wide leaders whose career led them not so fortunately to Hollywood (for Weir, and then Campion, Schepisi, and so on, right through Noyce) or the political West (for Tarkovsky, but also Lungin). In a way, the crisis came from success and globalization, leaving the new generation empty-handed.

As a result, they had to start anew, like Kriv Stenders in Boxing Day — a tense family drama filmed halfway between the technical tour-de-force of Russian Ark (Russisky Kovcheg) and home-movie simplicity. The reference to Sokurov in the context of the Adelaide festival was not accidental: The Russian section included The Sun (Solntse), his best recent film, misunderstood almost everywhere, from Moscow to Berlin and Tokyo. I am afraid that Adelaide was not an exception in this case.

Sophisticated formal games in Playing the Victim (Izobrazhaya Zhertvu) by the theatrical director Kirill Serebrennikov or First on the Moon (Pervye na Lune) by former documentary film maker Alexei Fedorchenko fouled not only audiences but also some critics, when much more linear approach in Blockade (Blokada) by Sergei Loznitsa or The Italian (Italianetz) by Andrei Kravchuk found universal support.

That is why I am not too sure of my judgment of recent Australian films with obviously a major local appeal, like Clubland by Cherie Nolan with a typically brilliant Brenda Blethyn, or the feminist anthropological essay Call me Mum by Margot Nash.

It is curious to point out that the reception of certain films inside the country and abroad sometimes is obviously contrasting. I might be mistaken, but the enthusiastic reception of local hip-hop culture documentary Words from the City (by Natasha Gadd and Rhys Graham) or the ethnic-legend short film Crocodile Dreaming (by Darlene Johnson with the aboriginal star David Gulpilil) have few chances to make a powerful echo worldwide, when the coolly received locally Lucky Miles and The Italian might get an international career.

At the same time, two masterpieces by established Australian directors that are not leaving the country let us believe, like Sokurov’s masterpiece, that a Renaissance is still possible. In Kalaupapa – Heaven, Paul Cox creates a true poem of love for the inhabitants (former inmates) of the leper colony on the island of Molokai, and Rolf de Heer, in the closing film Dr. Plonk, surpasses himself recreating the aesthetics of silent slapstick comedy.