I'm posting rather belatedly, but it's taken me a bit of time to recover from the film-viewing blitz of the last weekend of the Sydney Film Festival. On my final day's viewing I think I saw more gang-violence, gunfights and blood than I would normally see in a year of film viewing - and that's from someone who doesn't particularly avoid violence in movies.
I saw the second part of the Indian epic of corruption and revenge - the Gangs of Wasseypur 2. Each episode was two and a half hours. I'd intended to attend both, but another commitment meant I missed the first film in which the scene is set for a generational tale of contending power relationships between a family whose 'business' is the illegal trade and exploitation of coal and scrap metal, and a more powerful politician who plots to dominate and control such activities with greater subtlety. By the second half of the epic, revenge killings result in the leadership of the gang falling to a reluctant, pot-smoking grandson of the original protagonist who is surrounded by unpredictable relatives and loyal henchmen. I gather the first episode relied on gritty realism to tell the tale, but by this second episode the film used Bollywood elements and even humour intertwined with moments of touching naturalness and extraordinary violence. The film not only uses popular Indian film-making techniques, but simultaneously provides a critique of lives dominated by Bollywood-inspired dreams and behavior. Very sophisticated film-making in my view. The friend I was with commented that maybe the director is the Indian Tarentino. Maybe. Or maybe even Martin Scorsese. This is a great film. It has some of the best chase scenes - on motor scooters - I've ever seen. I'm not sure that two two-and-a-half hour Indian films will get a commercial release in Australia, but it they do I'll be queuing to see them. 4.5 out of 5.
My final film was the Mexican production, Miss Bala, set among the the drug gangs of Tijuana. This was one of those films where you just feel too much was attempted. You can't disagree with the moral intent of this film, which is to show the damage and despair that the drug trade in the border regions of Mexico wreaks on all citizens. Laura, the attractive young woman at the centre of the story who earns a meagre living for herself, her drunken father and younger brother through making clothes at home, enters a beauty contest in the hope of making some money. But she needs to go to the city to do this. While there she inadvertently witnesses a drug deal and police raid during which her friend disappears. As she tries to find her friend, Laura becomes a target for both corrupt police and the drug lord and once found by the drug gang, is forced to collaborate in their illegal activities. As a reward she gains (through gang manipulation) the beauty title 'Miss Bala'. The film is almost too eventful. Laura's plight is relentlessly and and increasingly predictably grim. I can understand that the Mexican drug wars penetrate and corrupt every aspect of Mexican society, but this might have been a better film if it was more narrowly focused. 3 out of 5.
So, that's it folks! Another wonderful Sydney Film Festival. Through a mixture of intent and chance almost all the films I've seen this year come from non-anglophone countries and sources other than mainstream US or even British film makers. I've loved the variety of points of view and unexpected insights.
My favourite? I don't have just one. The best two were Gangs of Wasseypur 2 and A Simple Life. So different, but both so wonderful.