CineBarr: Sydney Film Festival Blog #1

5 June 2012 | 1:16 pm | Ian Barr

Can Tim do The Comedy without Eric but with LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy? Find out in the first of our Sydney Film Festival blogs.

“It's great to see that it's a city where people really love cinema and really support cinema”, said newly appointed Sydney Film Festival director Nashen Moodley in these pages last week. Lovely words, but with all due respect to Mr Moodley – whose program is immense, and whose heart is clearly in the right place – it's not quite true. The main reason the festival matters to Sydney is the dearth of options for people who do love and support cinema; bereft of an equivalent to Melbourne's Academy Of The Moving Image or Canberra's Nation Film & Sound Archive to screen a wider range of old and new films alike, proper cinephilia in Sydney seems as much a languishing lost cause as its public transport system. Which is to say, a damned lost cause indeed. On the plus side, it's meant I've flown outta town a few times to catch stuff at film festivals both local (Brisbane, Melbourne) and International (Rotterdam), some of which have turned up on this year's program. Here are a few titles worth singling out.

One would be forgiven for thinking a skewering of over-privileged Williamsburg hipsters to be the peak of shooting barrelled fish. But Rick Alverson's The Comedy, starring Tim 'and Eric' Heidecker (Eric co-stars, as does LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy) captures a sense of malaise that extends beyond its chosen milieu. Through its depiction of ironic detachment taken to a logical endpoint, a haunting low-stakes tragedy emerges, where rampant insincerity is what brings on its subject's downfall. It's the kind of film that's possible to hate every minute of, yet walk away with admiration for – no easy feat, that.

The idea of 'landscape as a character' is an awfully hoary cliché that critics drag out time and time again, and unless trees are actually talking to one another, it's usually bogus. But there's a real case for it in both The Loneliest Planet and Once Upon A Time In Anatolia. In the former, a couple's (Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg) hiking trip through the desolate Georgian countryside exposes the seams in their relationship, after which tensions grow in silence that becomes almost unbearably tense. In Anatolia, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan upends the conventions of the police procedural genre, stretching two minutes of Law And Order exposition into nearly one-and-a-half hours of trance-like immersion in the Anatolian countryside at dawn; the perfect backdrop for the doubts and fears of cops and their captive criminals to grow and undulate.

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Probably the best film of the 20-ish seen so far is Tabu, from Portugese filmmaker Miguel Gomes. A Berlinale winner of a special 'artistic innovation' prize, it's a film split in two halves, both filmed in black and white – the first a low-key, amiable tale of an old woman, her maid and their neighbour in contemporary Lisbon, the second a swoony love story set in Colonial-era Africa. For the latter part, Gomes liberally adopts silent film technique in a manner that puts a certain recent Oscar winner to shame, in the process creating something totally singular and sublime. As long as Tabu is replaying in my mind, I don't care about what's lacking on Sydney's screens for the rest of the year.

The Comedy: 9pm, Thursday 14 June - Dendy Quays 2; 2pm, Saturday 16 June - Dendy Quays 2

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia: 4.15pm, Monday 11 June - State Theatre; 6pm, Thursday 14 June - Dendy Quays 2

Tabu: 7.15pm, Sunday 10 June - State Theatre; 11.45pm, Monday 11 June - State Theatre