Australia :: June 1994 - March 1995

Subject: BIFF: 5 AUG 94
Date: February 20, 1995 10:55

10:53 Pymble, New South Wales-Australia :: 20 FEB 95

Whoops. This one's been sitting around for a bit. Here's a review of some films I saw last year.

22:15 Toowong, Australia :: 5 AUG 94

BIFF stands for Brisbane International Film Festival. BIFF is in its third year. While Brisbane's population nears 1.5 million and it grows at a rate akin to Vancouver's, this is a significantly smaller festival than the event staged annually in Vancouver. Still, it boasts an interestingly varied and powerful film inventory, a good enough line-up that I spent more than $200 CDN on tickets. I'll provide synopses of some of the films I see.

Muriel's Wedding (Australia)

Dir: Paul J. Hogan Prod: Lynda House & Jocelyn Moorhouse Scr: Paul J. Hogan
DOP: Martin McGrath Edit: David Lee
Cast: Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths, Bill Hunter, Jeanie Drynan, Daniel Lapaine, Matt Day, Sophie Lee, Chris Haywood.

35mm/Col/1994/105mins Language: English

No, 'Crocodile Dundee' didn't write and direct this film, but I bet he wish he had. Paul J. Hogan is not the Akubra lidded one from down-under. (Incidentally, I've yet to hear any Australian use the phrase "down-under".) Muriel [Toni Colette] lives in Porpoise Spit. She is fat. She is a fashion accident. She listens only to music by ABBA. If she can get married she will erase all these shortcomings; to marry is to succeed.

When asked what I thought of it, I described this film to Gary Ellis, BIFFs General Manager, as "Heathers meets Strictly Ballroom," without the death and dismemberment. It matches Ballroom's quirky tone and captures sublimely the lower middle-class kitsch so well portrayed in Ballroom. The film's best moment is a production number mimicking cut-for-cut ABBA's "Waterloo" 'shlock'-video.

Meanwhile, Hogan deftly and hilariously tackles the identity crisis Muriel experiences after her self-serving circle of friends, none of them named Heather, ceremoniously dumps her. To be sure, her family of layabout siblings, disturbed mother and philandering, abusive, politically crooked father provide no support. Muriel finds salvation in a new friend [Rachel Griffiths, a scene stealer even when she's off screen] who cracks her shell wide open. Fulfillment follows in the form of a white wedding with all the trimmings and a gorgeous groom to boot-or does it?

This is another low-budget Australian directorial debut that's going to clean up at the box office.

Talk (Australia)

Dir: Susan Lambert Prod: Megan McMurchy Scr: Jan Cornall DOP: Ron Hagen
Edit: Henry Dangar Music: John Clifford White
Cast: Victoria Longley, Angie Milliken, Richard Roxburgh, Jacqueline Mckenzie, John Jarrat

35mm/Col/1994/88mins Language: English

Talk is exactly what you'll get in this dialog intensive film. Julia [Victoria Longley] and Stephanie [Angie Milliken] make comic books. Stephanie, the marketer, is desperate to have a child and, perhaps, a relationship. Julia, the artist, has both and a crisis: she is pregnant and her husband is having an affair. The dialog takes several breaks in a series of Julia's visual reflections on her current comic-book project in development. As always, the artist finds inspiration in her own life so these reflections fit deftly into and even propel the narrative. Lambert has struck on an effective and visually compelling device. But the film's solid foundation is Julia and Stephanie talking.

Oh yeah, the climactic love scene set my skin tingling. It features a fully clothed couple engaging in an achingly luxuriant and thoroughly erotic caress that never enter an erogenous zone.

Absolutely the most sensual moment in film I've ever experienced.

The Accompanist (France: L'Accompagnatrice)

Dir: Claude Miller Prod: Jean-Louis Livi
Scr: Claude Miller, Luc Beraud from a novel by Nina Berverova Cine: Yves Angelo
Edit: Albert Jurgenson Music: Alain Jomy
Cast: Richard Bohringer, Elena Safanova, Romane Bohringer, Laurence Monteyrol, Samual Labarthe, Bernard Verley, Claude Rich

35mm/Col/1992/111mins Language: French


To begin with, newcomer Romane Bohringer's performance received kudos from many critics, yet here she presents a repertoire of three looks: dour reserve, reserved grin and reserve. For a character study to succeed the characters must draw you in. None of the characters here warrents interest or even sympathy.

Irene is a gifted singer whose rising star in Vichy France necessitates appearances for Nazi supported events. Her husband, a rich businessman, must either trade with the Germans or be relegated to the privations and oppression to which occupied France generally falls prey. Irene's lover is a handsome member of the underground who decries the husband's collaboration, but not Irene's and that is all we learn of him or the lover's frequent trysts. Enter Irene's gifted young and naive accompanist, played by Romane. An interloper, a fly on the wall, through her POV the plot unfolds.

Essentially: husband and wife become escape Vichy and their forced collaboration and and arrive in beleaguered London where opulence comes without feeling the moral dilemma of the collaboration. The lover follows. The triangle explodes and destroys all.

Who cares?

I'm sure the director expected redemption through Romane's story, her halting moves away from her emotional detachment. But when Irene asks of her, "Are you in love? You have changed so much!" I smirk. Change? I saw only the same reserve.

There is little tension. We are given no basis for believing the love affair, or to care about the success of the marriage. Plot, characters, actors, all walk through the motions. I could have walked out.

18:11 Brisbane, Australia :: 7 AUG 94

The Ballad of Little Jo (USA)

DIR: Maggie Greenwald PROD: Fred Berner and Brenda Goodman
SCR: Maggie Greenwald CINE: Declan Quinn EDIT: Keith Reamer
LEADS: Suzy Amis, Bo Hopkins, Ian McKellan, David Chung, Carrie Snodgress, Heather Graham, Sam Robards, Rene Auberjonois

35mm/Col/1993/128mins Language: English

Watch out for this director. Ballad is Maggie Greenwald's first feature and it's a winner. This thoroughly researched Western revsionist fable is based on the real life Josephine Monaghan. It adroitly depicts life on the range for the physically and emotionally harsh existence it was. Few would long for the realities of this muddy, vulgar home on the range. But emerging through it all with grace and raw courage is Little Jo.

Josephine Monaghan began life in the 19th century as a member of Buffalo's high society. A romantic indescretion leading to a child out-of-wedlock provokes her shamed parents to cast the whore out. Josephine heads west alone but determined. The realities come crashing down in the form of a failed rape and Josephine takes the drastic, and illegal, step of dressing and acting as a man.

History does not document much of Little Jo's life, and Greenwald confides that much of the account is fictionalized. It is a compelling premise whatever the details, and in Greenwald's hands it becomes a story well told. Poignant moments of role-reversal are shared between Jo and the Asian "Tin Man" who begins as no more than a domestic servant but becomes her confidant and lover. Particularly sublime is Greenwald's treatment of the classic "caught bathing in the river scene" which is turned completely on its head. In this telling it is the waist length tresses of Tin Man that are are let down and the camera takes us on a luxurious trip of the surrogate woman's lean, taut and thoroughly beatiful physique. When Jo happens along, the sight sets her long repressed sexuality ablaze.

Fine performances, sumptuous cinematography, an honest script and the sure handling of Greenwald result in an interesting view into the West we've never seen. Worthy of note: of the 7,000 or so Westerns ever made, Ballad is apparently the first directed by a woman.

Traps (Australia)

DIR: Pauline Chan PROD: Jim McElroy SCR: Robert Carter, Pauline Chan
CINE: Kevin Hayward EDIT: Nicholas Beauman MUSIC: Douglas Stephen Rae
LEADS: Saskia Reeves, Robert Reynolds, Sami Frey, Jacqueline McKenzi, Kiet Lam, Hoa To, Thierry Marquet

35mm/Col/1994/95mins Language: English

Another exceptional feature debut from a woman director. Though constructed around four strong, divergent characters, the film hinges on Saskia Reeves' performance as the photographer of a husband and wife journalistic team. Reeves subjugates her ambitioins to capture difficult realities on film and assumes the role of supporter to her husband's editorial ambitions. These of course come at the expense of truth. The professional relationship parallels that of their emotional and sexual relationships and Reeves appears either unable or unwilling to wrest her identity from the self-possessed, control-monkey husband.

Throwing these naive children of the West into turbulent French Indochina of 1950 brings their tensions to a boil. Chan adds fuel to the fire in the form of a bisexual French plantation owner and his over-stimulated and provocative teenage daughter. It is this plantation, and the conditions under which the locals work it, that Reeves and husband have been assignd to review. For the sake of the husband's ambtions the review must be favourable to the French.

Finally, as if this is not enough, the communist Viet Minh have infiltrated the plantation... Look out, it's gonna blow!!!

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --