Sydney Film Festival Number 63 has come and gone again for another year. The Festival attracted many celebrities. These are some of my favourite pics.
With his new film THE LITTLE DEATH, Josh Lawson has written and directed a very funny film. Various stories relating to the sex lives and fantasies of a group of friends and neighbours are hilariously examined.
The film opened at the Sydney Film Festival and the audience was laughing from the opening scene. It was difficult to hear all the dialogue during the phone sex scene (featuring Erin James and TJ Power) because of the waves of laughter resounding through the cinema.
THE LITTLE DEATH opens with a scene about rape fantasy; a topic that is fraught with danger and in the wrong hands could be destructive and traumatic. However, Josh Lawson handles the situation well with humour and sensibly avoids the potential hazards of this subject.
Other fantasies explored include:- being aroused by someone crying and the tragic and comic depths someone will descend into to make their partner cry, being turned on by inherently funny role-play which happens to turn into an obsession, and being aroused by the sight of a sleeping partner. These fantasies make for some comical set pieces. Even though the film’s subject is about very intimate feelings and subjects, the characters tend to get themselves into complicated and ridiculous situations through their failure to have open and intimate conversations. This is incidental, really, as the film is lots of fun.
There are consistently strong performances from a talented cast that includes Josh Lawson, Bojana Novakovic, Damon Herriman, Patrick Brammall, Lisa McCune, Erin James, Kim Gyngell, TJ Power, Kate Box, Kate Mulvany, Alan Dukes, Genevieve Hegney, Zoe Carides, Ben Lawson, Tasneem Roc, Paul Gleeson, Lachy Hulme and Russell Dykstra.
THE LITTLE DEATH should be released later this year. I thoroughly recommend it.
In the opening scene Eleanor, in a fine performance by Jessica Chastain, attempts suicide by jumping off a bridge. The attempt is unsuccessful and she is pulled out of the water and taken to hospital.
The film then follows two threads. It examines the events leading up to her suicide attempt and simultaneously how Eleanor’s family and friends respond to her obvious fragility. We are taken along on Eleanor’s journey of suffering but it is a fairly pragmatic journey. She attempts various techniques to regain and restore her life, and more deeply to question what is a way to live a life and how does one know. This is not a self indulgent tale of woe instead it is an intelligent and entertaining view of living.
This superb, enthralling film will have opera and theatre people agog. One of the many films of this year’s Sydney Film Festival it came under their ‘Sounds on Screen’ section. It is a fascinating insight, a unique documentary behind the scenes of an opera production- in this case LA TRAVIATA at the Aix En Provence festival of 2011, directed by Jean-François Sivadier .
Based on Alexandre Dumas’ play LA DAME AUX CAMELIAS, the Opera is a standard in the repertoire of almost every Opera Company and the protagonist, Violetta, is regarded as a major test piece of a soprano’s career.
For those unfamiliar with it, the plot of LA TRAVIATA is briefly as follows, – Violetta, a top Parisian courtesan, finds her true love and a chance of redemption with a young man, Alfredo, but then is forced to give all that up when the young man’s father pressures her to sacrifice her love for the happiness of his family , saving Alfredo’s sister from scandal. From wild parties to pure love to a lonely death from consumption, LA TRAVIATA is about a woman’s life, intensely lived, followed by her heroic sacrifice .
Some would nitpick that film director Béziat does not give us a brief summary of the plot as above of the opera beforehand, rather he just assumes we are opera lovers familiar with it and he jumps straight in .Others would carp that there is no interview with Dessay and her thoughts about playing Violetta. Instead, we have a scene with a rehearsal pianist enthusiastically analysing the drama in Verdi’s music (for example when Violetta tries to steel herself to break up with Alfredo and how this is shown in the music). We also see a scene where Dessay and Sivadier analyse a single phrase – ‘E Strano’ (‘how strange’) .
Instead BECOMING TRAVIATA concentrates on Verdi’s glorious music and the fascinating intensive rehearsal process. In the film directed by Philippe Béziat we follow renowned soprano Natalie Dessay joining forces with innovative opera and theatre director Jean-François Sivadier in their challenging, risk taking production. Orchestrally, it features the excellent London Symphony Orchestra who play Verdi’s tumultuous, passionate music gloriously. The camera work is superb with occasional tremendous use of close up. I loved the lingering over the messy paint studio, and the shocking transformation of Dessay to a white faced very ill Violetta towards the end.
We see tech rehearsals and planning, huge (sometimes confused) chorus and also the more intimate individual rehearsals for the leads (Alfredo and Violetta especially) . Sivadier, always energetic and full of ideas, reminds Dessay that VIoletta can be in fact as heavy and demanding a role as HAMLET or Nina in Chekov’s THE SEAGULL. There are also Ophelia like references.
Director Beziat attempts to document the ‘Sivadier method’. Yes there are wonderful close ups but Sivadier’s approach discards ‘traditional’ hoary choreography , old fashioned crinolines and a huge feature chandelier for a far more ‘Expresionistic’ almost Tanztheater approach seeking to completely emotionally involve the audience. We see the cast refine their movements, characters, articulation and gestures and how Sivadier has developed a tremendous rapport with his cast during the challenging but exciting rehearsals.
Diva Natalie Dessay is amazing and gives her all. Her ‘Sempre Libre’ is amazing in Act 1 and the shattering finale is heartbreaking. We also see her rehearse Violetta’s collapse at the end . Terribly handsome tenor Charles Castronovo (Alfredo) is magnificent and sings divinely. His solo arias ‘ De’ miei bollenti spiriti / Il giovanile ardore ‘ are wonderful and the duets exceptional. And there is the catchy well known Brindisi drinking song in Act 1 ‘Libiamo ne’ lieti calici’ . Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont is marvellously played by rumbling bass – baritone Ludovic Tézier .His ‘ Pura siccome un angelo’ from Act 2 is tremendous .
Various shots of the production are interwoven with actual performance combined to create a fascinating, enthralling film. Bravo !
The complete production of this version of LA TRAVIATA was filmed and is available separately on DVD.
BECOMING TRAVIATA was part of the Sydney film Festival screening 13 and 15 June. Running time was 113 minutes. The documentary was screened in French with English subtitles.
If ever there was a film which produced mixed feelings, it is MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN, the film adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s prize- winning novel of the same name.
At its core this is a tried and true theme of babies, both boys, born at the same time at the same hospital, being swapped, the film focusing on the life of the child born of poor circumstances who is then brought up by an affluent family, a life meant for the other child. What complicates this theme and both dilutes and enriches it, is that the births of the babies occur at the very moment [at midnight] of the declaration of independence of India and Pakistan, and the momentous later events in the histories of these countries are interspersed with the later events in the lives of the two children.
In addition, throughout the film, and central to it, is magic, in the form of the ability of the main character to conjure up, at will, other children born when he was [hence the film’s title],who all have “powers”, including in the case of one, the power to make people invisible.
Bearing in mind the film lasts about two and a half hours, the inevitable result of this exotic mix is,unfortunately, a film-goer’s confusion and a lack of involvement with the characters.
Nevertheless it must be said that the acting is superb, the concept is epic, the colour and vitality of life in the subcontinent is perfectly captured, and there are a number of truly memorable moments in the film.
Perhaps the best way of summing up the film is this: for its entire length it holds your interest and it is enjoyable to watch, but, at its end, you are left wondering why that was so.
MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN is screening as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival.