This year I'll miss the second part of the Film Festival because I'll be away from Sydney, so I've decided to cram as many films as I can manage into a few days - a kind of compressed mini film festival. I started yesterday with three films. It was quite disorienting viewing the films in a large, soulless cinema complex that is usually dominated by blockbusters and action films. The site that contains the grand faux-baroque 1930s State Theatre, that's usually the main venue for the Festival, is under renovation and so can only be used for a few sessions over the weekends when the workmen aren't working. So in this unfamiliar venue I didn't know where to look to find friends and acquaintances or where to find the toilets, though I was grateful for the good sight-lines - the old State Theatre is notoriously bad in this respect.
I had a good day. I saw the kind of movies you go to a film festival to see. Not perfect, but stimulating and engaging. First up was 'Cirkus Columbia', set in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1991 at that moment in time between former Yugoslavia's emergence from Soviet domination and the outbreak of war among the the components of that complex national construction. Divko, who has lived for twenty years in Germany to escape the constraints of Communism, returns to his hometown, accompanied by his beautiful young girlfriend, and cat, to enjoy his economic status in his sleepy hometown that is gradually awakening to the attractions of a globalised economy. He evicts his wife and son from the family home and sets up tensions within the family and between former friends. Because we view the film with knowledge of the looming war between former compatriots, every individual's action and choice is weighted with the potential for disaster. It's a very good film, where the idyllic summer landscape and the quiet lives of the locals are contrasted with the horror that is to come (but is not depicted within the film). Clearly, this film of small interpersonal dramas - of dispossession, ruptured friendships, unexpected alliances, great humanity under extreme circumstances - is also an allegory for the break-up of former Yugoslavia. But it works equally well as a drama of the tensions of family and friendship. I think probably a score of 4 out of 5.
I then saw 'Attenburg', a film made by a young Greek film-maker that is all about the Big Things - death, sex, love, friendship. It's not a perfect film, but for me it's the kind of film that becomes even richer in retrospect. At its centre is a rather naive and inexperienced young woman, Marina, who is caring for her dying father at the same time as she has her first sexual encounter with a seemingly caring and gentle older man. The film intersperses realism with sequences of Marina and her more worldly friend in highly synchronised movements along a pathway. Marina watches David Attenborough's nature documentaries (hence the title) and she and her father and friend imitate animal movements and cries (not sure if this is part of the realism or the fantasy). The film has a very deadpan tone - almost as if it is a descriptive documentary that observes but doesn't interpret. I think I've made this film sound even odder than it is. I did like it - though I would hesitate before recommending it to others. I'd give it a 4.
And then 'Position Among the Stars', a cinema verite depiction of family life in a poor suburb of Jakarta in Indonesia; the third in a trilogy of films made about the same family by a Dutch film-maker. This is a most accomplished film with rich cinematography, but I think its very glossiness undercuts its impact. Years ago we had a friend who made very innovative documentaries that relied for their success on his closeness to his subjects. His ambition was to make the camerawork as 'plain' as possible so that it didn't interpret the characters more than was necessary. When watching this film you are very conscious of the cleverness of the camerawork and the way it is framing the story and characters. I would have preferred a more straight-forward telling of the story. My score? 2.5.