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MARDI GRAS FILM FESTIVAL - 1999

ECLECTIC AND ENTERTAINING
The Mardi Gras Film Festival has often been the centrepiece of Sydney's month-long Gay arts celebration, and this year's Festival, debuting at the Pitt Centre on Thursday 11, and moving on to the Roxy Parramatta from the 19th, is destined to be one of the most eclectic and enthralling for years, says PAUL FISCHER

There are films here that have already had international acclaim, and deserve special mention. Jimmy Smallhorne's 2by4, which I first saw at last year's Sundance Film Festival, is a tough, brooding and utterly brilliant work about an Irish working-class group of New Yorkers. The film's central character is Johnny (played with eloquent subtlety by the film's writer/director Jimmy Smallhorne) who is well-respected in his job with his uncle Trump's construction company, as well as in the Irish community in the north of the Bronx, where, helped along partly by drugs and alcohol, he parties until the small hours. He loves his girlfriend, but somehow, facing increasing sleeping disorders, Johnny starts to feel uneasy. The new leather trousers seem to be having an effect on night owls on the dark streets, or is Johnny looking for the company of other men? One night he witnesses his uncle with a trick on the building site, which seems only to reawaken old demons. What Johnny doesn't know is, why.

Then he meets Christian (played by new, unknown Australian actor Bradley Fitts), and tries to forge a relationship, one doomed from the outset. Smallhorne's debut is a gritty, beautifully realised and stunning work, powerful, dark and uncompromising. A great work from a promising new Irish filmmaker.

Regeneration was due to be screened at last year's festival, and it's great that the film may finally be seen. The majority of the film, which is adapted from a novel by Pat Barker, takes place within the walls of Craiglockart, a Scottish hospital for those whose war wounds are to the mind and spirit, not the body. Set during World War I, the story centres around four men: established poet and war hero Siegfried Sassoon (James Wilby), neophyte writer Wilfred Owen (Stuart Bunce), shell-shocked officer Billy Prior (Johnny Lee Miller), and the doctor who treats them all, William Rivers (Jonathan Pryce).

Sassoon has been sent to Craiglockart to discredit him, because his current philosophy, that the war has become one of "aggression and conquest" is a source of embarrassment to his senior officers. While there, he strikes up a friendship with Owen, and the two spend many hours talking about writing. Meanwhile, Prior, who is fighting to break through a memory blockage, is romancing a local munitions plant worker (Tanya Allen).

And Rivers, who is gradually taking on the burdens of all his patients, is on the way to a breakdown. The film is as powerful a look at war as anything seen recently, Saving Private Ryan notwithstanding. With brutal images of war and carnage, coupled with the poetically eloquent study of the Owen-Sassoon relationship, Regeneration is an extraordinary masterwork, beautifully and intricately crafted by director Gillies MacKinnon, and featuring a powerhouse performance by the brilliant Jonathan Pryce. This is an absolute must.

High Art is not only a major highlight of this Film Festival, but one of the major films of the year. This exquisite gem revolves around Syd, (Radha Mitchell) a newly appointed assistant editor of Frame magazine, who discovers that the woman living above her flat is enigmatic photographer Lucy Berliner (Ally Sheedy). When the two meet, Syd gets acquainted with both Lucy's past work and her circle of phlegmatic, junkie friends. Seeing a definite career opportunity, Syd encourages Lucy to shoot new pictures for her magazine. At the same time, a strong attraction starts to develop between them. As the photo assignment continues, both Syd and Lucy are forced to examine their own lives and loves. Apart from the hypnotic performances of Australia's Mitchell and the remarkable Sheedy, High Art is an eloquent, erotic and flawlessly realised masterpiece, beautifully shot and superbly directed by Lisa Cholodenko. A haunting, almost European looking film in tone, High Art is a true gem.

Kiss Me Guido was another highlight at Sundance last year, and is a funny crowd pleaser, simplistic but amiable. Warren (Anthony Birrale) has an extra room in his apartment (and is five months behind on the rent) after his lover moves out, so a friend places an ad on his behalf for a GWM roommate. Frankie, (Nick Scottie) a pizza baker (and aspiring actor), decides to move out of his family's flat in The Bronx when he comes home one evening and walks in on his brother making love to Frankie's girlfriend. Frankie checks ads for roommates in "the city" (i.e., Manhattan), notices Warren's ad and decides to answer it, reasoning that GWM stands for "Guy With Money." This isn't the most original film screening, but its attractive and energetic cast and loose direction by Tony Vitale, makes it a fun, fast and charmingly cute piece that should prove a great crowd pleaser given this Festival's array of dark work.

Love and Death on Long Island is an often witty, sometimes moving drama about an unusual obsession. Giles De'Ath (John Hurt) is a widower who doesn't like anything modern. He goes to movies and falls in love with B-grade film star, Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley). He becomes obsessed with Ronnie and travels to Long Island where Ronnie lives and finally meets him, ptelling Ronnie he is a great actor and that's why Giles admires him. Love and Death in Long Island, is a sometimes slow, but always involving film about sexual obsession, but done with extraordinary wit and grace. Hurt is one of those actors who can never miss a beat and is unforgettable as this tragic figure, while Priestley is less convincing as the object of the former's affection. Itís an intelligent and engrossing film that has proven to be a darling of the festival circuit, though it deserves more than that.

This year's Mardi Gras Film Festival is certainly diverse, and its documentaries, including Sex Life in LA and The Real Ellen Story, are all worth checking out. There are some great gems here, and this Festival showcases some wonderful works.

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High Art


Love and Death on Long Island

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