The film festival line-up brought hits and a miss, writes Paul Kalina.
IN 2003 Glendyn Ivin was the little-known hometown filmmaker who returned from the Cannes Film Festival with the Palme d’Or for his short film Cracker Bag.
Six years later, his first feature premiered to packed houses as the fourth Adelaide Film Festival, concluded at the weekend.
Ivin’s Cannes achievement paid off, though not in the expected way.
After Cannes he was bombarded with scripts — so many that he implored his agent to stop sending them. He diplomatically refrains from naming them in case other filmmakers have picked them up.
But one got through. Only a few pages in, he was hooked by the image of the main character, Kev, cutting off his hair in the neon-lit bathroom of a McDonalds.
Hugo Weaving, who would eventually make this troubled character his own, had seen Cracker Bag and was immediately excited about working with Ivin.
In Last Ride, Weaving manages to turn a reprehensible character into a heart-rending figure of pathos and hard-won sympathy. In the hands of a lesser actor, viewers would have disengaged from such a deadbeat protagonist close to the outset.
An event, the circumstances of which are slowly revealed as the story unfolds, forces Kev to flee his remote town with his 10-year-old son Chook (Tom Russell). A road movie, it is filled with evocative cinematography (by Greig Fraser) and a tough though rewarding denouement.
Kriv Stenders’ Lucky Country, which also screened at the Adelaide Film Festival is also about a flawed father and the mistakes he makes. Like Stenders’ previous film, Boxing Day, Lucky Country was co-funded by the festival (as was Last Ride) and explores a topic that is both contained and epic.
Lucky Country is a gothic Western set in the Australian bush in 1902 when three mysterious strangers arrive at the log cabin of a recently widowed evangelist farmer (Aden Young) and his two children.
The film’s title, says Stenders, is ironic in the way that Donald Horne originally intended. "Personally, I engage with the idea of just how tenuous our place is here," he says.
Stenders makes no apology for the film’s uncompromising harshness. It is, he acknowledges, a morality tale, "a dark Western", the logic of which requires some tough asks of the audience.
The star-studded Noel Coward adaptation Easy Virtue was the perfect choice for closing the festival on Sunday night.
For starters, it brought the house down at its two concurrent, capacity screenings. Secondly, it is co-written and directed by Stephan Elliott, one of Australian cinema’s most successful talents, despite not having even worked here for 12 years since Welcome to Woop-Woop.
Elliott, who adapted the Coward play with Sheridan Jobbins, takes a screwball approach to the material, a raucous period-set comedy in which the son (played by Ben Barnes) of a fading aristocratic family brings his new wife home to meet the mostly mortified family. She is, after all, older than him, a racing-car driver, an American and a divorcee whose name has appeared in the scandal sheets.
Kristin Scott Thomas, Jessica Biel and Colin Firth are pitch perfect in their respective roles, while the script deftly draws out the stinging attacks on upper-class values and marital codes. If anything, Elliott’s perspectives as an outsider serve him well here. It’s blisteringly funny at times, even when it resorts to a semi-slapstick routine involving an unfortunate Chihuahua that would be at home in a Weekend at Bernie’s type comedy.
But there were disappointments too in the Australian line-up at Adelaide. In Closed for Winter, Natalie Imbruglia plays a woman who is emotionally reawakened some 20 years after the unsolved disappearance of her sister.
Artlessly and sluggishly directed by James Bogle (In The Winter Dark), it is marred by misshapen performances, clumsy and contrived storytelling and a cliched resolution.