It’s 4 a.m. In the steely quiet of the false dawn I have
plenty of time to think, to reflect. Days and dates have lost
their conventional meaning. All I know is that it’s the
morning of the fifth day of the 1998 Brisbane International Film
Festival. Six hours since my last cup of coffee. Every neuron is
screaming for caffeine. I put on the kettle in the hope of
appeasing them with the last of the powdered newsprint that
passes for coffee in my house.
The early morning chill accentuates everything - the aching in
my back, the million random thoughts running around in my brain.
My vision is hazy as I sit before the screen. When will that damn
In this state, it seems to me that if you’re serious
about film, a film festival is like a swimming pool on the
hottest day of the year. Something to be savoured - a chance to
immerse yourself in the sheer enjoyment of it all. But
there’s a price. Three, four, sometimes five films a day;
subsisting on conversation, snacks, little sleep - and coffee.
When I started this, I would have one cup - white - in the
morning. Now I’m slamming short blacks at all hours of the
It all started innocently enough on opening night with the
world premiere of John Ruane’s Dead
Letter Office. Although fresh from its Awgie
award win, the audience reaction was mixed - from "I fell
asleep" to "brilliant". Perhaps some were confused
by its billing as a romantic comedy. Dead
Letter Office is actually a poignant
exploration of loss, love and redemption. With Ruane’s
sure-handed direction and outstanding performances from Miranda
Otto and American TV actor George Del Hoyo it was, for me, one of
the best Australian films of the year so far. A real contender
for at least a couple of AFI awards.
From there, it’s all a whirr of colour, action, drama,
laughter, sadness, fear and an ever increasing need for espresso.
Through this, these highlights have shone:
Masato Harada’s audacious film set in the Shibuya district
of Tokyo. Who would have thought that a filmmaker could explore
issues like teenage prostitution, the status of women in Asian
societies, Japan’s wartime treatment of the so-called
"comfort women" and the influence of organised crime in
the context of a funny, hectic and ultimately (in the
director’s own words) "feel-good" movie.
In the Winter Dark
- Another outstanding new Australian film, directed by James
Bogle from an adaptation of Tim Winton’s book. This tale of
tragedy, unresolved emotions, and lurking evil in a rural
community seemed to strike a chord with the Brisbane audience.
Although part of the "Oz noir" trend which has emerged
recently, it is lightened by little gems of humour. Again, likely
to be a front-runner in the AFIs.
- This atmospheric contemplation on love, loss and being Chinese
in a changing world from hot Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai
netted him the Best Director award at Cannes. Those who liked
Chunking Express should run to see this stunning film (it has
been picked up for release in Australia) which features
outstanding cinematography by Australian ex-pat Chris Doyle.
Slaves of Hollywood
- A very different American independent by first-timers Terry
Keefe and Michael Wechsler. Made on credit cards, it explodes
many of the myths of the Hollywood dream of "making
it". The hilarity of the writing is not lost by the use of
the "mockumentary" construct and the inclusion of
numerous references to famous films. Comparisons can be made to
Rhinoskin (shown at BIFF a couple of years ago) and Swimming with
The kettle has boiled. Thank God. The trickle of the
world’s most popular legal drug through my bloodstream
brings a sigh of relief. It brings my thoughts into sharper
focus. In the gathering dawn, I recall a few disappointments:
Rien ne va Plus
- The 50th feature from veteran French director Claude Chabrol
features great performances from Isabelle Huppert and Michel
Serrault, but is let down by a script which is too tortuous for
its own good and ends up with a rather bewildering anticlimax.
Adapted from a stage play, this film from Dutch director Mijke de
Jong never loses its stage-bound feel. Five sisters meet
ostensibly to make a video for their parents’ upcoming
anniversary. Predictably, there is filial conflict and angst over
their relationship with their parents. The problem is there is
never any resolution of the conflict or the deeper issues - and
the ending is a cop-out.
I look at the clock. 6.15 a.m. The children will be waking
soon, ready to play. I wonder if I can squeeze another cup out of
the virtually empty jar.