June, an amazing time of the year. A time when many are off travelling the world chasing a European Summer. I too was travelling the world, all from the comfort of a cinema seat as the 69th Sydney Film Festival rolled around for another year.
200+ films from 60+ countries crammed into 12 days of pure cinematic madness. A time where many laughs and cries are shared with complete strangers, who in a strange way feel like family. There’s nothing quite like it. Sure, you must sacrifice meals, get hardly any sleep, constantly run across the city to get to your next session, but in the end, it’s all worth it for the beauty that unfolds on the big screen. Some of these films will never be in a cinema ever again, which is a shame, but also what makes each session so cherishable. This year I managed to squeeze in 34 screenings and boy were there some absolute gems. Here are some words on my favourites.
Director | Lukas Dhont
Country | Belgium
Two 13-year-old boys have always been incredibly close, but they start drifting apart after their relationship is questioned by schoolmates. When tragedy strikes, one is forced to confront why he distanced himself from his closest friend. This was a painstakingly beautiful experience. Emotionally understated in the most powerful way possible. It hurts. It knocks you down and never lets you get back up. A relentlessly bleak and heartbreaking affair. Eden Dambrine is remarkable in the lead role, a powerful performance that says so much without saying much at all. The cinematography is also breathtaking. A beautifully crafted, extremely courageous, and emotionally draining masterpiece. My favourite of the festival and the best thing I’ve seen this year.
Release | The film has been picked up by madman Entertainment, so we can expect a release at some stage later this year.
FIRE OF LOVE
Director | Sara Dosa
Country | USA/Canada
Katia and Maurice Krafft loved two things – each other, and volcanoes. For two decades, they roamed the planet, chasing eruptions and their aftermath, documenting their discoveries in stunning photographs and breathtaking film which we witness here like never before. Beautifully narrated by Miranda July and accompanied by astonishing visuals which makes for a stunning spectacle. Archival footage is pieced together perfectly to create an incredibly captivating lava-fuelled love story. It’s quite mind-blowing how it was all put together.
A mesmerising cinematic experience that stays with you long after the credits roll. You won’t be able to get some of the visuals out of your mind, and I mean that in a good way. One of the best documentaries in recent years, or ever for that matter.
Release | July 6th in select cities. Plus, it’s also showing at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August. Being a National Geographic production, we expect it to be on their channel at some stage this year as well.
CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH
Director | Cooper Raiff
Country | USA
Fresh out of college and stuck at his New Jersey home without a clear path forward, 22-year-old Andrew begins working as a party starter for bar/bat mitzvahs where he strikes up a unique friendship with a young mum and her teenage daughter. I absolutely adored Raiff’s previous film Shithouse and the feeling is mutual for his sophomore effort. He absolutely knocks it out of the park once again.
An incredibly delightful feel-good experience that left a smile on my face from start to finish. It’s got such a genuine vibe that packs a whole lot of emotion. As much as I love the humour, it’s the uncomfortable awkwardness that I appreciate most. A tremendous cast that all bring something special to the table. I’ve got a lot of love for this type of cinema and of course Cooper Raiff himself, the man needs to be protected at all costs.
Release | Currently streaming on Apple TV
Director | Carla Simón
Country | Spain
For as long as they can remember, the Solé family has spent every summer picking the peaches in their orchard in Alcarràs, a small village in Catalonia. But this year’s crop may well be their last, as they face eviction. The new plans for the land, which include cutting down the peach trees and installing solar panels, cause a rift in this large, tight-knit family. For the first time, they face an uncertain future and risk losing more than their orchard.
A tremendous piece of filmmaking that uses an incredibly sincere approach which makes for such a genuine and authentic viewing experience. The ensemble cast is incredible and the fact that they are all non-actors makes it even more astonishing and realistic. It feels less like a film and more like an emotional slice of life that just so happens to be captured on camera. The final shot hits so damn hard, very powerful stuff.
Release | You can catch it at the Melbourne International Film Festival (4-21 Aug).
THE QUIET GIRL
Director | Colm Bairéad
Country | Ireland
A quiet, neglected girl is sent away from her dysfunctional family to live with relatives for the summer. She blossoms in their care, but in this house where there are meant to be no secrets, she discovers one. An incredibly delicate, patient, and understated piece of filmmaking. The performances are painstakingly tender and brilliant, as is the direction from Colm Bairéad. Every scene is meticulously crafted for maximum impact.
Everything from the dialogue to the cinematography and especially the pacing is subdued and constrained which makes the emotional ending all the more heart-wrenching. A beautiful film that certainly puts the tear ducts into overdrive. This received one of the longest applauses I’ve experienced at SFF, and I think it may have been the first standing ovation I’ve witnessed too, thoroughly deserved.
Release | In select cinemas in August.
THE BLIND MAN WHO DID NOT WANT TO SEE TITANIC
Director | Teemu Nikki
Country | Finland
Jaakko and Sirpa have never met face to face but talk on the phone every day. When Jaakko hears news about Sirpa’s declining health, he decides to go meet her in another city. It’s not the easiest decision, because he’s blind and paralysed from the chest down – and he must make the journey alone. To get there, Jaakko must rely on the help of five strangers. I was absolutely blown away by this one.
The camerawork is incredible, using only close-ups to limit the field of view with everything but the protagonist out of focus to simulate his blindness. It creates such an authentic and distressing experience. A sensational performance from Petri Poikolainen as well, especially given the fact that he is blind and paralysed himself. It’s a captivating film from start to finish with a whole bunch of film references chucked in for good measure. Oh, and it’s damn funny.
Release | TBC
Teacups captures Richie’s approach immaculately. There is nothing heavy-handed about this short which gently holds our hand throughout the 7 minutes and 40 seconds, much the way Don Richie and his wife Moya held the hands and troubles of those countless lives they saved.
The Sydney Underground Film Festival is a truly unique experience that showcases obscure, thought-provoking cinema or as I like to say, films you wouldn’t take home to meet your parents. It’s a one-of-a-kind festival that features eclectic storytelling from across the globe as well as our own backyard.
What starts as a stroll through the English countryside, soon transforms into something otherworldly. After donning outerwear from the luxury fashion house, four friends are swept up by a magical breeze that carries them across golden fields and lofty woodlands, destined for the coast.