Sydney Film Festival 2009

2009 Sydney Film Festival (3-14 June 2009)So I went a little nuts and saw 6 movies at the Sydney Film Festival


A violent, emotional movie about a small time Korean gangster who beats up people for a living. He has serious anger issues thanks to the trauma of domestic violence when he was growing up. One day he meets a smart-talking teenage girl, and somehow they form a kind of kinship due to common backgrounds that neither is aware of. The movie shows his growing relationships with her, his best friend and gangster boss, as well as his sister and lonely nephew, and how he comes to terms with different issues in his life.

It’s not for the faint of heart—almost every other scene involves someone getting beaten up and there is a lot of foul language that leads to a lot of comedic moments that we all found hilarious. I though it could have ended earlier than it did, and while each part of the movie was significant, some parts chugged along slower than the others. The end seemed inevitable to me, but, despite that, this is a gem of a film that draws you in and makes you feel for the characters. Recommended.

Native Dancer

Native Dancer 2008 Film PosterThis Kazakhstani movie is simple but the story is well told. Bulgur, a successful Kazakhstani business man, has given his land over to a female shaman who helped him in the past. She has a successful trade helping out people from far and wide. A local mob boss decides the land is the best place for him to open a petrol station, and when Bulgur refuses to sell, he attempts to drive her away fro the land, leading to a chain of events that have far-reaching consequences. The story shows a slice of life in Kazakhstan and how old traditions fit with a modern lifestyle. The characters in the story, while very modern, still believe very much in the supernatural, and the majority respect the old traditions—respecting life, land, etc.—and believe that disturbing this balance may have disastrous results. While the plot was very simple, I liked the way this story unfolded and how everything came together in the end. It’s a story about consequences, and the supernatural elements—they’re not scary and mostly implied—enhance the storytelling. The movement of the story was very lyrical, and I felt like the film was a song played out with a triumphant crescendo.

500 Days of Summer

This movie is about a boy and a girl. Except the boy falls in love with the girl—the titular Summer—and wants something serious. She doesn’t. That doesn’t turn out so well, but, as they say, it is all about the journey. I don’t think anything I can say can give this movie justice. It was a beautiful ensemble film, which bears testament to wonderful acting in the form of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, the only actors I recognised in this entire filmfest (this being the only pseudo-mainstream movie that I watched). I loved how this movie was crafted, how it all came together, and how well written it is.

I went to this movie by myself, and the theatre was, despite the prospective romance-ish set-up, populated by a fair amount of men, too. I would refer to this movie as a rom com for guys. The girls sitting behind me were infuriated by Deschanel’s character—in their eyes, Gordon-Levitt (Tom, in this movie) was perfect and sweet and he loooooved her; how could she say no? I, on the other hand, completely understood her motivations and could feel so much for her. While Tom was a great guy … I just knew about Summer. I know a few people who cried in this movie, and I thought I would at some point, while waiting for the bus thinking about it, but for different reasons. While people were sad because they could relate to Tom being dumped and his belief that there’s someone out there for everyone, I was sad because I know what it’s like to know what you want and what you don’t, and how, no matter how you try, sometimes this is not it and sometimes it’s not so easy to not be nice. And how, sometimes, you secretly hope you’ll be surprised. Highly Recommended.

The September Issue

This is the story of the devil who wears Prada, also known as Anna Wintour. It’s a documentary about the “September Issue”, the biggest issue that Vogue puts out every year, what goes on behind the scenes, and a bit of the lives of the magazine’s major players—namely Anna and Grace Coddington, Creative Director and Stylist. I must say the documentary was quite good despite the fact that I waited in the cold (it was below ten maybe a little above five), in a queue that went from the State Theatre around to Galleries Victoria, because the movie before ours ran late. I was surrounded by the most fake Louis Vuittons I have seen outside of Asia, and every other person was a fashionista. The other people were there … out of curiosity, perhaps?

I’m certainly not a fashionista, and while I get the reason why people laughed during the film at some very random frivolous-sounding moments, I understand why it’s important. It can be shallow, but like it or not, fashion has a profound effect on everyone’s lives, whether you care what you wear or not. What they dictate in the September Issue trickles down to what’s available at your local K-mart, so it does affect your choices in the long run. Fashion is also a billion-dollar business, so you actually have to respect these people for their skills in parting us with our money even if we do make them rich.

What I learnt from the film:
1. Anna Wintour is bitchy, but not as bitchy as she’s made out to be in the Devil Wears Prada.
2. People who work in fashion and who aren’t models aren’t generally good looking. Nor do they dress fashionably (other than Anna)—they kind of favour plain dressing. And they always look worn out. (I suppose that’s true of any magazine.)
3. No matter how rich you are you will always buy Starbucks coffee, not (better) Italian coffee from the neighbourhood cafe. Just Starbucks.
4. It takes a woman to stand up to another woman. Men can’t do it. (Maybe gay men can, but not the one in the movie.)
5. Grace rocks.

Recommended, whether you’re a fashion victim, fashionista or just interested. You don’t have to like fashion to like this movie.

No Impact Man

No Impact Man (2009)This movie is a documentary of one year in the life of Colin Beavan, his wife, Michelle, and toddler, Isabella, when they decide to change their lifestyle in order to cause no net impact to the environment. They become vegetarian, they’re not allowed to travel, use any form of motorised transportation (including public transportation), they have to walk up stairs, they don’t shopping, they stop using toilet paper… (You can read more about the experiment in Beavan’s blog, No Impact Man.)

I found this movie very interesting and inspirational. I try my darnedest to do my bit for the environment—I try to buy organic as much as possible, I turn off the lights, recycle, walk, etc. While this seemed like a crazy experiment to begin with, kudos to him for trying. The main point of the movie is that you don’t have to take away everything, but you can make the effort to do as much as you possibly can to minimise your impact on the environment while still remaining happy. It also highlights the culture of “wanting”, of consuming things just because we can, even if we don’t need it (“Why can’t I have this? I want it, I can have it!”), which seems timely given the current economic downturn.

This ‘No waste, No Impact’ lifestyle does not come easily for the family—at some point they even give up electricity—but watching their struggles and triumphs with matching wisecracks and side comments from Michelle, who is my absolute fave in this movie, were both funny and touching. The objective of the movie, I believe, is to make you aware of what can be done, and it has certainly done that. It also makes you greatful for what you have. Recommended.

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Wandergurl is a sometime traveller who spends her daylight hours making sure that things go the way they're supposed to with minimum bureaucracy (don't ask!). A firm believer that thirty is the new twenty, she will probably never look her age (or act it!). An enthusiastic football supporter (that would be soccer to you) she will get up at odd hours to watch a game, and of course it's not just because the players are hot. She loves history, geography and is pretty good at trivia, thanks to her propensity to remember random bits of celebrity gossip. When not reading or travelling, she can be found indulging in her other passion -- eating -- and can be found at Wake up and smell the coffee.

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