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sublime art, strange states

keith gallasch: 2010 sydney film festival


Dragos Bucur, Police Adjective Dragos Bucur, Police Adjective
FOUR FILMS IN THE 2010 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL INDUCED STRANGE STATES OF BEING, EACH CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE A REMINDER OF THE CAPACITY OF FILM TO SUSPEND TIME, CHALLENGE VISUAL PERCEPTION AND QUESTION OUR READINGS OF THE BEHAVIOUR OF OUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS. FOR A STEADY STREAM OF EXITING FESTIVAL-GOERS UNWILLING TO SURRENDER TO THESE FILMS’ DEMANDS FOR PATIENCE, THE PREVALENT STATE OF BEING WAS DOUBTLESS BOREDOM, BUT FOR THOSE WHO WENT THE DISTANCE THE REWARDS WERE, WELL, ALMOST INEXPRESSIBLE.

women without men

Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s video installations are some of the most powerful I’ve experienced. Women without Men deepens conventional filmmaking with the language of Neshat’s video art—the long gaze at a still face or at an eerie garden or across a desert; images that recur and disorient—a woman on a rooftop, looking out before falling; time made indefinite. On the other hand there’s urgency and suspense in this unhurried telling of the destruction of democracy in Iran in 1953 and the parallel plight of four oppressed women of different social castes who seek refuge on a country estate and achieve temporary unanimity.

police, adjective

In the ultimate stakeout movie, Romanian Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police Adjective, we enter into the real time world of physical surveillance as a young undercover detective (Dragos Bucur) interminably monitors a suspected young hashish dealer. Just as viewer patience is stretched to the maximum, the stakeouts are interpolated with brief, relatively brisk episodes (with the detective’s wife, other investigators, his boss) that reveal his growing doubt about prosecuting a harsh sentence against a minor offender. The episodes yield a growing sense of absurdity in a tired, stressed system where the confusing gap between law and justice signals not only a young post-communist country struggling with the notion of democracy but also a rigidity that belongs to the past. The deadpan dialogue captures the semantic contradictions with Kafka-esque brilliance as the characters struggle to come to terms with new meanings.

uncle boonmee who can recall his past lives

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s uncle boonmee...is the strangest of these films, certainly the most disorienting as the Thai director’s typically inconclusive narrative—embodying folk tales, ghosts, sexual politics and the demands of family—unfolds with utter unpredictability. A dying man reunites with his son and dead first wife and visits the cave site of his first life. Subsequently we linger with the remnants of the family in a motel room which splits into a parallel universe. As with Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady, there is a raw beauty to the filming—nightime has never been so dark in film as here—unaccented performances and a totally convincing merger of worlds actual and other that together question what’s real.

white material

Isabelle Huppert’s character in Claire Denis’ White Material is like one those strangely engaging, obtuse women in Eric Rohmer films oblivious to what is going on around them, except that here the woman is a French colonial coffee plantation owner in Africa in the midst of a bloody rebellion destined to banish or murder colonists and many of the native population with them. Seemingly blind to the disintegration of her family, the fears of her workers, the compromised friendship with a local African leader and the danger to herself, she pushes ahead, harvesting with frightening determination.

The suspense in White Material is painful, the pacing almost real time, the tropical heat palpable—we feel like we’re travelling every exhausting kilometre with the woman when she goes to fetch replacement workers, living out the senselessness of her quest, a condition doubtless created by the personal investment she has made in the plantation against all the odds of politics and family. Denis creates a world that hovers between the actual and something bordering on the surreal, realised here by having to identify with the woman’s misreading of her circumstances, all the way to a chilling release that is less than cathartic and all the more meaningful for it.


2010 Sydney Film Festival, June 2-14

RealTime issue #98 Aug-Sept 2010 pg. 31

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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