info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  

absent parents, challenged childhoods

kirsten krauth: 2010 sydney film festival


Charlotte Gainsbourg, Morgana Davies, Gabriel Gotting, The Tree Charlotte Gainsbourg, Morgana Davies, Gabriel Gotting, The Tree
photo Baruch Rafic
UNDER CLARE STEWART’S CREATIVE LEADERSHIP THE SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL APPEARS TO HAVE FOUND THE PERFECT BLEND: A COMPETITION VIBE WITH BIG AUDIENCES AND FESTIVAL STARS (EWAN MCGREGOR OUT FOR ROMAN POLANSKI’S THE GHOST WRITER—POLANSKI EDITED THE FILM IN JAIL); INDIE FAVOURITES (LIKE TODD SOLONDZ’S FOLLOW UP TO HAPPINESS, LIFE DURING WARTIME AND MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM’S CONTROVERSIAL THE KILLER INSIDE ME); CULTURAL ODDITIES (BANKSY’S BRILLIANT DOCO, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP); MERCILESS BLACK HUMOUR (CHRIS MORRIS’ OUTSTANDING FOUR LIONS); AND A GOOD MIX OF INDUSTRY TALKS (INCLUDING A HIGHLY ENTERTAINING TAKE ON AUSTRALIAN GENRE MOVIES).

This year, two films with Australian connections featured in competition (The Tree and Wasted on the Young), and a sold-out session of The Dendy Awards for short films revealed lots of Oz talent on the rise.

the tree

French director Julie Bertucelli’s The Tree was selected for Cannes Film Festival’s closing night. The film is a French/Australian co-production (hence the inclusion of uber-cool actress Charlotte Gainsbourg—so memorable in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist [2009]) and is that rarest of film beasts—it beautifully melds the Australian landscape with a French film aesthetic. Simone (Morgana Davies) is a spunky, headstrong girl who witnesses the death of her father Peter (Aden Young) while riding on the back of his ute. As he suffers a heart attack, his truck smashes into the beautiful old fig that dominates the family home. As grief overpowers her mother, Dawn (Gainsbourg), the girl turns to the tree for comfort and protection, eventually sleeping there; she is convinced she can hear her father whispering in the leaves.

Like Scott Hicks’ The Boys are Back, The Tree focuses on the inner world of a child in the immediate aftermath of unexpected death. Hicks’ film was also set in an old house with a verandah, a sublime rural landscape. Both films were based on successful books and, while occasionally maudlin, with lashings of syrup, they manage to connect deeply with childhood experience—in the dialogue of kids trying to understand a world gone awry—and the struggles of the parent (in Hicks’ case, a father) left behind. How to grieve when your children are swamping you: there’s no space or time to reflect. At the funeral, Simone observes, “No-one’s crying. That’s how it is when people are really sad.” As Dawn finds it increasingly hard to get out of bed, the neighbours quickly forget her pain. In her home no-one answers the phone. Dad’s still on the answering machine. Simone brushes Dawn’s hair, organises clothes off the hangers, in a bid to reclaim her mum, help her rediscover life.

The beautiful tree took a long time to cast. Eventually, when Bertucelli found the perfect specimen (with no CGI help), the house set was built around it. With its patches of lichen, ants scaling the trunk, it becomes like a many-limbed maternal body. The wonderful sound design brings the relationship between Simone and the creaking tree to life; it sings in the wind. The girl gradually becomes a bowerbird, taking her father’s watch and other precious items, and hanging them in the tree’s branches to create a kind of shrine. The film never veers into magical realism (hinting, hinting) but still there is that sense of child-like wonder at the majestic (I remember my passionate childhood love for Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree).

The Tree’s drama comes in the form of George (Marton Csokas), Dawn’s new lover who, being a pragmatist wants to cut the tree down (after a large branch crushes part of the house), underestimating the determination of a young girl grieving for her father.

wasted on the young

Wasted on the Young, while differing markedly in style, is also about parental absence. A slick and techno take on upwardly mobile teens in a posh school, the nihilism of writer/director Ben C. Lucas’ film reminds me of novelist Bret Easton Ellis’s early work, the generation-defining Less Than Zero. Adults of any kind (parents, teachers) never feature within the film’s frames: this is a dog-eat-dog world where boys aim for perfection (the swim team) while girls compete to fuck them. Zach (Alex Russell as head honcho) holds parties every weekend in his super-styled mansion where it seems only his brother Darren (Oliver Ackland) is not on the guest list: he’s hunkered down by the computer, working on his school projects.

While clichés abound (jocks vs nerds), and there’s nothing really new to the date-rape-revenge narrative (extending the themes of Steven Vidler’s Blackrock [1997]), most of the acting is terrific (especially Adelaide Clemens as the rape victim, Xandrie) and what sets the film apart is its brilliant production design and highly stylised effects. Beautifully integrated is the teens’ world of text and chat, the conversations dripping off the walls, part of the film’s fabric, rather than just posed as the usual screen shots. The ending, too, takes on reality TV’s voyeuristic need to vote contestants off, of how far you’re going to push the idea that you have a right to watch and control, whatever the outcome.

the dendy awards

The Dendy Awards each year brings together a great showcase of filmmakers working on short film projects, and always highlights names to watch. This year, as always, was a mixed bag but there were a number of stunners. Winner of the Yoram Gross Animation Award, The Lost Thing (directed by Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann) uses a unique otherworldly aesthetic (familiar to readers of Shaun Tan’s picture books) to craft a melancholy tale of a boy who discovers a hybrid creature that doesn’t quite belong in the muted industrial landscape of his world, and helps it find a place in the sun. The film won the Cristal Award at the Annecy Film Festival, the most prestigious international animation festival.

In terms of drama, The Kiss (winner Best Live Action Short; director Ashlee Page) and Deeper Than Yesterday (Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director; Ariel Kleiman) were both outstanding and (bizarrely) featured dead females floating. The former is a languorous nightmare where two teenage girls, hot and drunk, take a bike ride in the bush and jump into a well before realising they can no longer reach the rope ladder to climb out; the latter, a remarkably assured surreal tale of Russians aboard a submarine who surface to discover the body of a woman floating nearby. Once aboard she becomes a kind of waltzing matilda, a site for the men’s frustrated fantasies.

It’s always hard to pick and choose at festivals but part of the joy is the hit and miss, that feeling of jetlag when you realise you’ve spent a whole day in a seat without moving your arms or legs. The festival offers its own pathways (with titles like Fire Me Up, Freak Me Out, Take Me to the Edge...) to negotiate the ticketing process but I usually make my own way. This year I opted for black comedy; the youth factor; films starring actresses named Charlotte; and new Aussie. It was a great success.


The Tree and Wasted on the Young screened in competition at the Sydney Film Festival with Wasted on the Young receiving an honourable mention from the judging panel.

The Tree, writer, director Julie Bertucelli, based on a novel by Judy Pascoe, producers Sue Taylor, Yael Fogiel, Laetitia Gonzalez, original music Grégoire Hetzel, cinematographer Nigel Bluck, editor François Gédigier; Wasted on the Young, writer, director Ben C Lucas, producers Janelle Landers, Aidan O’Bryan, cinematographer Dan Freene, editor Leanne Cole

RealTime issue #98 Aug-Sept 2010 pg. 30

© Kirsten Krauth; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top