In 1998, 90,000 people attended the Festival (London attracts 110,000). Surveys show
that in the last two years patronage has increased by 70%, and Sandra Sdraulig, who took
the helm as Executive Director three years ago, believes that the increase is due to the
shift in programming from niche to generally more accessible films.
"Film buffs are still supporting the Festival"
"High profile films attract ordinary people, but the niche cognoscenti are still
satisfied with the program," Sdraulig says. Single session sales have increased, so
have mini-passes. But proof that film buffs are still supporting the Festival is in the
steady number of Gold and Silver passes being sold. There is spillover from mainstream
audiences into the hardcore arthouse and experimental sections, and Nielson ratings show
that the age profile of those attending is "reassuringly across the board."
MIFF opens this year with Siam Sunset, the debut feature of Australian actor John
Polson. It's a funny, clever, lushly lensed film which won the French Railways Workers
award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, where it screened in Critics Week. (Ed: the
Rail d’Or is much prized, and astutely appropriate for a film from a country which
prides itself on its egalitarian spirit.)
Siam Sunset stars Linus Roache (Priest) as Perry, a successful design executive in a
British paint company, who wins a coach trip to the Australian outback in a Bingo game,
after the tragic death of his wife through a falling fridge. In his quest to forget the
past and discover the perfect colour (Siam Sunset), he falls in love with Grace (Danielle
Cormack from Topless Women Talk About Their Lives), and becomes a magnet for disaster.
One test of any Australian film is how it presents in foreign climes, and in Cannes
there was nothing but pride in seeing this stylish, multilayered film represent our
FUTURE DIRECTIONS IN FILM is the Festival's theme this
year, and on the eve of a new millenium, what could be more appropriate than a series of
10 films by new and established directors, titled 2000 AS SEEN BY...
Hal Hartley's The Book Of Life is a characteristically
playful, tongue-in-cheek account of the Second Coming of Jesus, featuring Hartley regular
Martin Donavan as Jesus and Thomas Jay Ryan as Lucifer. Canadian actor/writer Don McKellar
achieves the impossible and makes the apocalypse seem casual in Last
Night, which concentrates on a group of characters dealing with last minute
business, as Toronto unravels and prepares for the end. McKellar's debut feature is
piquant and moving, and his characters eerily memorable.
Critics at Cannes last year couldn't make up their minds if Tsai Ming-liang's The Hole (pic) was simply tedious or a masterpiece. Set in a run-down
apartment block, in a depopulated Taiwan beset by rain and disease, a plumber is sent by a
downstairs neighbour to fix a leak in the flat above. What results is a hole in the
ceiling/floor, through which the two occupants 'communicate'. Bleak and wryly comic, the
hole is symptomatic of the state we find ourselves in at the end of the twentieth century.
Also worth watching is The Wall, Alain Berliner's
imaginative look at the dangers of linguistic schism in Belgium, and Life On Earth, in
which Abderrahmane Sissako flees the Y2K bug in France to record the poetic timelessness
of his native Mali.
More than 50 feature films, culled from major festivals around the world, will be
screening in International Panorama. Some will be released commercially.
Aleksandr Sokurov's Moloch caused a furore at Cannes this
year, when it was awarded Best Screenplay by the Cannes Jury, led by David Cronenberg.
Moloch covers 24 hours in the life of Adolf Hitler and his mistress, Eva Braun. The
setting is atop Hitler's mountain retreat in Bavaria, and the film's action, such as it
is, consists of watching Hitler and his gangsters at play.
Like The Hole, Moloch is minimalist filmmaking which defies Hollywood conventions. As
such it is poetic and difficult, with no narrative in the usual sense. Rather we absorb
and understand Hitler from the film's aesthetics, from what we expect to happen, and from
what does not.
There are magical scenes: Braun lost in herself doing callisthenics in a bodystocking,
Hitler grinning gleefully at himself in a newsreel. Despite the film's dreamlike beauty,
which is truly seductive, Sokurov shows Hitler, Goebbels and Co as ugly little trolls who
have crawled out from the dark, and now rule the earth from the top of a mountain. Sokurov
seems to be saying that evil is vacuous. Love cannot exist there. All that is left in such
a vacuum is stunted, stupid and ugly.
Tim Roth's directorial debut The War Zone is also
impressive. At first sight the film's theme, the abuse of male power in the family, seems
to sit oddly with Roth's on-screen image of punk hero. But this talented actor is also a
gifted director. Ray Winstone is explosive as father of a family of five, relocated to
brooding countryside in Devon. Tilda Swinton (who made the film just weeks after giving
birth to twins), plays the mother too preoccupied with her new baby to notice what is
tearing the family apart. Roth handles some difficult scenes extraordinarily well. His
cinematic style is quiet, studied, and he employs an almost static camera at times to
The Five Senses, by Canadian director Jeremy Podeswa
(Eclipse) is a perfect film of its genre. The lives of a handful of characters
interconnect when the little daughter of one of their neighbours goes missing, feared
abducted, in Toronto. The five senses are the threads woven into each character's story -
Richard (Phillipe Volter) is in danger of losing his hearing, Robert (Daniel McIvor) is a
house-cleaner with a nose for love, Robert's best friend Rona (Mary-Louise Parker), has a
problem with her sense of taste, and so on. Podeswa captures exactly the right balance
between charm and realism, with the film's clever bones hardly protruding.
Emir Kusturica's latest film, Black Cat, White Cat (pic) is very
loosely based on an ancient Serbian proverb that good luck follows bad. Set in a small
Gypsy community on the banks of the Danube, it's a rambunctious romp, filled with
carnivalesque characters, about two aging 'godfathers' who fall out over a black-market
OTHER FILMS TO CATCH:
The Class Trip, French director Claude Miller's unnerving,
eye-catching drama about a melancholy young boy's traumatic experineces during a winter
vacation; David Cronenberg's eXistenZ depictsa society in the
future where game designers are worshipped as superstars, and players can organically
enter the game; John Sayles Limbo, a compelling tale about
survival (family, nature, other people), set in Alaska. Consummately acted, with
characters that are fully rounded, Limbo's talking point is the surprise ending.