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An Australian erotic thriller? Not many of those around, but now there is one, Sleeping Beauty (no, it’s not a remake), and it’s deemed good enough to be the first fully Australian film* in a decade to be invited to screen in Official Competition at Festival de Cannes (May 11 – 22), the altar of cinema. Andrew L. Urban reports on the Australian films invited to the Festival.

Starring Emily Browning, Sleeping Beauty is an erotic thriller about Lucy, a university student drawn into a mysterious world of beauty and desire when she accepts work as a sleeper in a ‘Sleeping Beauty’ chamber. Written and directed by novelist Julia Leigh, it has the kind of unique premise the Festival is drawn to, but it also has to be well made to be one of the 19 chosen (out of a couple of thousand submitted) for the Competition.

“I find it impossible to pinpoint any one point of inspiration,” says Leigh of her filmmaking debut; “there were many factors.” Leigh feels that her “literary background is in fact my cinematic background; that’s my sensibility. My mind has been opened by literature and novels and I took that to cinema.”

"original, risk taking and fresh cinematic voices"

“Our presence in the Official program at Cannes,” says Kathleen Drumm, Head of Marketing at Screen Australia, “reinforces the message to the international film industry to look to Australia for filmmaking talent: original, risk taking and fresh cinematic voices.” 

And for the second time in three years, a talented Aboriginal filmmaker is represented in the Un Certain Regard section, the major sidebar showcase for directors with a singular vision. In 2009 it was Warwick Thornton with Samson and Delilah; this year it’s Ivan Sen with his new film, Toomelah. 

According to the official release, Toomelah is the provocative and comic tale of a 10 year old boy called Kiren (Daniel Conners) who wants to be a gangster and his life growing up in a remote Aboriginal community. 

"made in a very unorthodox way"

In the Screen Australia announcement Sen says, “Toomelah is a pretty unique movie, which was made in a very unorthodox way. I try not to get too carried away about festivals, but Toomelah, the community, is my family's home and I'm so proud of them all. I'm related to almost everyone there, and almost half the population pops up in the film. It will be an honour to take the movie and the cast to Cannes. One of them has never been on a plane before and the lead actor, Daniel, has only been as far as Brisbane.”

With Sleeping Beauty Leigh is in the select company of renowned filmmakers including Woody Allen, whose latest, Midnight in Paris, will open the festival, Spanish wunderkind (not so ‘kinder’ any more) Pedro Almodovar, America’s Terrence Malick, Italy’s Nanni Moretti, Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki and Denmark’s iconoclastic Lars von Trier.

"influence in Hollywood"

The Festival likes to show off its influence in Hollywood with something special and this time it’s the biggest live action movie of the year, The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. This helps bring media magnet A listers (like Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz) to Cannes, as will Jodie Foster’s The Beaver, starring Foster and Mel Gibson. Both films are showing Out of Competition (needless to say).

The Beaver (opens in Australia July 21) stars Mel Gibson as toy manufacturing tycoon (inherited) Walter Black (Mel Gibson) who is taken over by a depression that threatens his company as well as his family. All he can do is sleep, much to the consternation of his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) and his sons Porter (Anton Yelchin) and the younger Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart). A stuffed beaver hand puppet from his past becomes his means of communicating with the world.

In keeping with the Festival’s links to Hollywood, this year’s Jury President is Robert De Niro.

In all, the official selection comprises 49 feature films while the adjacent program of Critics’ Week has also invited an Australian film – the harrowing true story of Snowtown by Justin Kurzel. The film (opens in Australia May 19 coinciding with its premiere at Cannes), explores the infamous case of the murders in South Australia in the 1990s. The remains of eight victims were discovered in barrels of acid located in a rented former bank building, but there were 12 killed in all. Four people were convicted including ring leader Bunting.

The best thing about the film is its portrait of the physical and emotional environment in which the story takes place: the chaos of the family’s house, the disarray of its inhabitants, the relentless mood of defeated lives.

There is even an Australian film among the nine shorts in Competition: Nash Edgerton’s Bear, co-written with David Michod (Animal Kingdom). 

Cannes Jury 2011

The Festival is beefing up its opening celebrations with what will become a permanent fixture: the Honorary Palme d’Or, which this year goes to Italian filmmaking legend, Bernardo Bertolucci. Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood are past recipients, but the ceremony will now precede every Festival.

Late news, May 6: The Artist, directed by French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius has been added to the Official Competition, which brings the list to 20 films.

* In 2009, Jane Campion’s UK/Australia co-production, Bright Star, was also in Competition.

Published first in the Sun-Herald
Published May 5, 2011

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Sleeping Beauty

Australian films in the Festival:
Sleeping Beauty – Competition
Bear – Short Competition
Toomelah – Un Certain Regard
Snowtown – Critics’ Week




Midnight in Paris

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