The Sydney Film Festival finished today. There's always a feeling of flatness as it comes to an end and you have to return to the routine of your 'real' life.
Fortunately, the last two movies I've seen in the Festival have both been wonderful.
Very late last night - we left the cinema at a quarter to midnight - we saw controversial director Roman Polanski's latest film, 'The Ghost Writer'. It's such a good film. I'm tempted to say it's perfect, but it can be so because it's not overly ambitious, is very clear about what it wants to achieve, and sets about doing that most methodically. It's quite a conventional political thriller with a very tight script, and a great performance from Ewan McGregor as a nameless ghost writer hired to write a salable biography of an ex-British Prime Minister. All the twists and turns and false trails you'd anticipate and some you wouldn't. The stark modernist house on a rainy, windswept island off the east coast of the USA is a highly styled atmospheric setting. One of my favourite elements is the vital clue provided by a GPS in a car - detection keeping pace with technology!
As Jody has noted, the pleasure of the film was heightened even further by Ewan McGregor's perfectly judged Q&A session after the film. Articulate, unpretentious, funny, accessible...all you could wish for. At least a 4.5 out of 5.
Then today, an excellent documentary, 'The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers'. Ellsberg was a very bright, trusted bureaucrat and adviser to the US government during the period of the Vietnam War who came to reject the cover-up of what was really happening in the War, which he was helping to disseminate. Eventually, at great risk to himself, he leaked damaging information - the Pentagon Papers - to the press. It's a most apposite documentary for our times, exposing as it does the cover-ups, evasions, exaggerations and lies that governments can tell to justify controversial courses of action such as going to war. Ellsberg's clearly a man of immense integrity and great moral courage, still fighting for transparency and truth in government. Again, a 4.5 out of 5.
I've seen 15 films over 10 days. I always think the Film Festival and concentrated film viewing lets me 'get my eye in'. Seeing different kinds of films in such a short time lets me compare and contrast and (I think) hone my judgment. It's worth the blur of tiredness I feel just about now.
So, my picks from what I've seen of the Festival?
Two superb documentaries - 'The Last Train Home' about migrant workers in China, and 'The Most Dangerous Man in America' mentioned above. Both teach us so much about our world, but do so without preaching.
Two excellent fiction films - 'How I Ended This Summer', a suspenseful film about choice and survival, and the Polanski film 'The Ghost Writer', a perfect piece of genre film-making.
See you at the movies!