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"I get lots of roles the American stars don't want to do. American stars don't want to kill the baby. I'll kill the baby. I'll kill any baby for a good part."  -Terence Stamp
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Wednesday March 25, 2020 

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There are a million cinema lovers in a big city, but only one has to file a report for Urban Cinefile at dawn.... David Edwards
(with apologies to Raymond Carver).

It’s 4 a.m. In the steely quiet of the false dawn I have plenty of time to think, to reflect. Days and dates have lost their conventional meaning. All I know is that it’s the morning of the fifth day of the 1998 Brisbane International Film Festival. Six hours since my last cup of coffee. Every neuron is screaming for caffeine. I put on the kettle in the hope of appeasing them with the last of the powdered newsprint that passes for coffee in my house.

The early morning chill accentuates everything - the aching in my back, the million random thoughts running around in my brain. My vision is hazy as I sit before the screen. When will that damn water boil?

In this state, it seems to me that if you’re serious about film, a film festival is like a swimming pool on the hottest day of the year. Something to be savoured - a chance to immerse yourself in the sheer enjoyment of it all. But there’s a price. Three, four, sometimes five films a day; subsisting on conversation, snacks, little sleep - and coffee. When I started this, I would have one cup - white - in the morning. Now I’m slamming short blacks at all hours of the night.

It all started innocently enough on opening night with the world premiere of John Ruane’s Dead Letter Office. Although fresh from its Awgie award win, the audience reaction was mixed - from "I fell asleep" to "brilliant". Perhaps some were confused by its billing as a romantic comedy. Dead Letter Office is actually a poignant exploration of loss, love and redemption. With Ruane’s sure-handed direction and outstanding performances from Miranda Otto and American TV actor George Del Hoyo it was, for me, one of the best Australian films of the year so far. A real contender for at least a couple of AFI awards.

From there, it’s all a whirr of colour, action, drama, laughter, sadness, fear and an ever increasing need for espresso. Through this, these highlights have shone:

Bounce - Masato Harada’s audacious film set in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. Who would have thought that a filmmaker could explore issues like teenage prostitution, the status of women in Asian societies, Japan’s wartime treatment of the so-called "comfort women" and the influence of organised crime in the context of a funny, hectic and ultimately (in the director’s own words) "feel-good" movie.

In the Winter Dark - Another outstanding new Australian film, directed by James Bogle from an adaptation of Tim Winton’s book. This tale of tragedy, unresolved emotions, and lurking evil in a rural community seemed to strike a chord with the Brisbane audience. Although part of the "Oz noir" trend which has emerged recently, it is lightened by little gems of humour. Again, likely to be a front-runner in the AFIs.

Happy Together - This atmospheric contemplation on love, loss and being Chinese in a changing world from hot Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai netted him the Best Director award at Cannes. Those who liked Chunking Express should run to see this stunning film (it has been picked up for release in Australia) which features outstanding cinematography by Australian ex-pat Chris Doyle.

Slaves of Hollywood - A very different American independent by first-timers Terry Keefe and Michael Wechsler. Made on credit cards, it explodes many of the myths of the Hollywood dream of "making it". The hilarity of the writing is not lost by the use of the "mockumentary" construct and the inclusion of numerous references to famous films. Comparisons can be made to Rhinoskin (shown at BIFF a couple of years ago) and Swimming with Sharks.

The kettle has boiled. Thank God. The trickle of the world’s most popular legal drug through my bloodstream brings a sigh of relief. It brings my thoughts into sharper focus. In the gathering dawn, I recall a few disappointments:

Rien ne va Plus - The 50th feature from veteran French director Claude Chabrol features great performances from Isabelle Huppert and Michel Serrault, but is let down by a script which is too tortuous for its own good and ends up with a rather bewildering anticlimax.

Brittle - Adapted from a stage play, this film from Dutch director Mijke de Jong never loses its stage-bound feel. Five sisters meet ostensibly to make a video for their parents’ upcoming anniversary. Predictably, there is filial conflict and angst over their relationship with their parents. The problem is there is never any resolution of the conflict or the deeper issues - and the ending is a cop-out.

I look at the clock. 6.15 a.m. The children will be waking soon, ready to play. I wonder if I can squeeze another cup out of the virtually empty jar.

July, 1998

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Dead Letter Office

In the Winter Dark



Born to be Baby

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