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AUSTRALIAN FILMS AT CANNES 1999

STRANGE, PASSIONATE . . . SUNSET . . .
Buyers at Cannes this year (May 12 to 23) may be excused for momentary confusion over some of the Australian films being screened: Passion, Strange Fits of Passion, Strange Planet are three of them. Nobody will be confused about The Craic, even if they don’t understand the title. As for Siam Sunset, buyers will be told it is not made in Thailand…Also screening for the first time are two low budget thrillers, Powderburn and Redball.
Here’s a snapshot list of all the Australian features at Cannes:

Siam Sunset - Perry (played by Linus Roach), the central character, tries to close himself off after the tragedy of his wife’s accidental death. But then he falls in love and starts to live again. There are lots of funny bits but the turning points are often sad. Co-stars Danielle Cormack, directed by John Polson; screening in Critics Week.

"We’ve all had days when everything goes wrong," says John Polson, "this guy’s having a life like that." Polson is talking about Perry, the central character in Siam Sunset, Polson’s debut feature. "I like the idea of a guy battling the universe…"

Siam Sunset is a romantic comedy, but Polson puts a proviso: "It is a romantic comedy but the theme is the character coming to terms with the death of his wife. It’s really multi-genre, and I embrace that."

Strange Fits of Passion – an engaging and endearing debut from writer/director Elise McCredie, is a girl’s rite of passage. A young Melbourne woman is scrambling through the bushes of sexual identity and her dreams of losing her virginity predominate. Stars Michela Noonan and Mitchell Butel; screening in Critics Week.

"I’d never seen a film exploring a young woman’s sexuality," says McCredie, an actor, writer and director and graduate of Melbourne University and the Victorian College of the Arts. (She has received a Queens Trust Scholarship to study film directing at the New York Film Academy.) "I wanted to explore the confusion around sex, love, sexuality, gender politics – I wrote a film I wanted to see."

Passion – Richard Roxburgh plays brilliant and eccentric pianist Percy Grainger, Barbara Hershey plays his mother Rose and Emily Woof plays his lover Karen. Director Peter Duncan changes pace from humour to dramatic biopic and does so with confidence and flair. Has good chance for commercial success. Screening in the market.

"I didn’t want the film to fall into the trap of a traditional biopic," says Duncan, "which I think is best told over six glorious Sunday nights on tv. We’ve done a good job in showing Grainger’s essence in the course of about a year. It’s hard to summarise him, a contradictory and complex individual. In the tussle between the love for his mother versus love for other people and things, he was always going to choose his mother – that was the essential drama of his life."

Strange Planet – Emma Kate Croghan’s follow-up to Love and Other Catastrophes, with Claudia Karvan, Alice Garner, Naomi Watts, Tom Long, Aaron Jeffrey and Felix Williamson. Screening in the market.

"We came to Sydney to explore a city with fresh eyes," says Croghan. Using time lapse photography and inner city locations, the film "looks pretty good, actually," she says. "Clean and simple I hope, but that’s sometimes hard to achieve." Although different to her first film, Croghan says at heart it is still preoccupied with "the same things - love and life. The characters and story developed at the same time and the writing took longer – the rumination period was lengthy."

The Craic – Melbourne comic Jimeoin was motivated to write something that brought together some of his experiences with a handful of young illegal migrants he shared a flat with, and elements of "real people from Northern Ireland who are not political." Stars Jimeoin and Alan McKee; screening in the market.

Jimeoin was motivated to write something that brought together some of his experiences with a handful of young illegal migrants he shared a flat with, and elements of "real people from Northern Ireland who are not political. Being from Northern Ireland and seeing films like Devil’s Advocate and Patriot Games, it struck me how these films never show what the people are really like. But the narrative is the key – you have to believe in the story and you’ll laugh with the characters."

Redball – a controversial ‘belly of the beast’ look inside police work, through the lives of some burnt out major crime detectives. Written and directed by Jon Hewitt, stars Belinda McClory and John Brumpton. Could break out….screening in the market.

"….when the character of JJ Wilson (played by Belinda McClory) tortures a confession out of a crim, I’m all for it – on one level," says Hewitt. "Too many leniances shown to known crims doesn’t help….But it’s a tough area…Look, the film is full of contradictions, and it’s meant to be. Art is there to ask the questions – not necessarily to provide the answers. We just have to be aware that this sort of abuse of power is very common."

Powderburn – low budget urban thriller with lots of fun and style, strong appeal to young market – including females, with two strong female characters. Debut from Stephen prime, stars Blazey Best, Olivia Pigeot, Nicholas Bishop; screening in the market.

Best got the role because, as Prime explained it to her, she seems able to get in touch with "the flaky side" of her nature…." Another strong female character in the film is Lily, played by Olivia Pigeot. "It’s a juicy film," says Blazey, "because the situations are so extreme." Prime, who runs an advertising agency called Eden Street, praises the crew for being dedicated – instead of greedy. "We’ve departed from what’s expected so we avoided using Government sources to finance the film because we didn’t want to change it to suit them."

Also screening:

Two Hands – Gregor Jordan’s engaging crime drama has had a bit of surgery, cutting out the mystical figure played by Steve Vidler (on external advice). Stars Bryan Brown, Heath Ledger, Rose Byrne, Dave Field. First screened at Sundance; screening in the market.

Fresh Air – Neil Mansfield youthful, innovative ‘zinema’ movie about contemporary urban youth, stars Nadine Garner, Marin Mimica and Bridie Carter. First screened at Rotterdam Film Festival; screening in the market.

Kick – Lynda Hayes’ debut film about a high school boy who is torn between his sporting achievements and his burning desire to dance with the ballet. Stars Russell Page, Rebecca Yates, Paul Mercurio; screening in the market.

Occasional Coarse Language – Brad Hayward’s entertaining low budget debut film about inner urban 20-somethings finding their way, starring Sara Browne, Astrid Grant, Nicholas Bishop. Recovered its budget at the Australian box office. Screening at the market.

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