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"Stewart, a decent but repressed man, probably never had sex in his life, he's an aunty's boy"  -Jane Campion on the character played by Sam Neill in The Piano
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Wednesday March 25, 2020 

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Brisbane audiences are keen to see quality films, judging by the response to the Brisbane International Film Festival, reorts DAVID EDWARDS, in our continuing coverage of the youngest capital city festival in Australia.

There is no doubt that the opening film, The Full Monty, was a crowd pleaser. However, that is not really what this festival is all about. BIFF’s main role is to present challenging, interesting and, yes, entertaining films to a Brisbane audience that would otherwise not have the opportunity to view them. In providing people with that opportunity, the Festival plays a vital part in the development of film culture in Queensland.

BIFF’s central role in that development makes it, in context, probably more significant than the Sydney or Melbourne Festivals, because film culture is more refined in those cities. The indications are that BIFF is becoming increasingly successful in that role, with ticket sales four days into the Festival exceeding the total sales for last year.

Also, the Brisbane audience has sent a strong message to film distributors with a number of so-called "art house" films sold out at their Festival screenings. Possibly most significant in that regard was the sell-out of Lars Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, which has to date been denied a Brisbane release, despite having been seen in all other Australian capitals.

Enough of the philosophy; the important thing about any festival is the films. Here are my pocket reviews of a selection of films from BIFF 1997. (Excluding those already covered in our earlier BIFF reports - Ed.)

Kari Skogland’s often hilarious low-budget Canadian film, The Size of Watermelons takes gentle aim at frustrated student filmmakers everywhere. Set in the pretentious art schools of Venice Beach, California, The Size of Watermelons features fine performances from its mostly unknown cast. The well structured film-within-a-film story of the main characters personal crises whilst trying to make his first film is stylishly told, and reveals quite a light touch from its director. It’s rather surprisingly non-fatalistic ending is a welcome change from other films of its ilk. Let’s face it, any film where one of the protagonists has a life-goal to liberate Hawaii from the United States has to be worth a look.

IRMA VEP (France)
One of the hot films on this year’s festival circuit is another film-within-a-film story. Director Olivier Assayas’ comedy has been compared to Truffaut’s Day for Night. Whilst the film does not quite reach those heights, it does compare favourably with other recent films on filmmaking, such as Tom Di Cillo’s Living in Oblivion and Elie Chouraqui’s The Liars.

Irma Vep was, of course, one of the icons of early French cinema. The film relates the story of a director, Rene, obsessed with remaking Les Vampires, the 1915 silent in which Vep starred. He convinces Hong Kong star Maggie Cheung (playing herself) to star. After attempting to recreate the earlier film scene for scene, Rene suffers a breakdown and disappears. However, he continues editing the film, with surprising results. Of course, the making of the film is merely the background against which some very funny relationships between the characters are played out. The comedy is sophisticated and gentle, again reminiscent of The Liars.

Irma Vep will probably (and deservedly) secure a release in this country on the art-house circuit, which is good news for those who like their comedies French, beautiful and not at all predictable.

Jan Svankmajer, as those who have seen his Faust (1994) will know, is a challenging and sometimes frustrating filmmaker. The Conspirators of Pleasure continues that trend. This elliptical tale of five people, seemingly unconnected but each sharing dark (but often comic) desires is at once intriguing and rather impenetrable. The rondo style of this dialogue-free film sustains the viewer’s interest; but this is necessary because of the inaccessibility of some of the themes explored through the five strange protagonists. Part of the difficulty with the film is that it relies heavily on surrealism, an artistic style with which Australians have never really connected in any artistic medium. The surrealism is accentuated by the mix of live action and animation, and sometimes the dividing line between the comic elements and the director’s more serious intentions becomes blurred.

Nonetheless, this is a fascinating film which challenges its audience to come to its own conclusions rather than relying on the filmmaker to set everything out on a platter.

SUZAKU (Japan)
Winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes this year, Suzaku is the first feature film from documentary maker Naomi Kawese. Like her earlier documentary works, Suzaku deals with family relationships. This beautifully realised film purposely does so in almost excruciating detail. The story is set in a mountain village in a rural area of Nara prefecture. Surrounded by natural beauty, but slowly dying economically, the village provides the backdrop to, and a metaphor for, the relationships between the members of the subject family.

Kawese has paced the film very deliberately in order to extract the pain and longing of the characters. This is a style which may be unfamiliar to Australian audiences, used to seeing a rather more animated style in recent Japanese cinema. Indeed, in its treatment of the relationships, it is more reminiscent of a European film, such as Bergman’s Persona, than many Japanese films.

This was one of the films of BIFF 1997 for me; a wonderfully understated and poised exposition of family interaction.

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"There is no doubt that the opening film, The Full Monty, was a crowd pleaser."

Breaking the Waves: a sell-out

Conspirators of Pleasure, a fascinating film which challenges its audience

Cannes Camera D'Or winner, Suzaku

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