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49th Melbourne International Film Festival

The story so far: four days and fourteen films down. Already a few favourites are appearing, as word gets around and sessions sell out. Here are my notes on events to date:

Dateline: Thursday 20th July, 2000

Downtown 81
A day in the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat as he strolls through New York's Lower East Side greeting and meeting with friends and associates. In a story that's not quite fiction, not quite fact he sees several bands including Kid Creole and the Coconuts, DNA and James White and the Blacks. This film was shot when Jean was nineteen, prior to the fame he later found as an artist and was left uncompleted until recently rediscovered.

A wonderful snapshot into Basquiat and the NY club scene in 1981. Look out for Deborah Harry as a lipstick smeared bag lady "fairy princess".

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Downtown 81
Ring of Fire
La Comtessa de Castiglione
Blood: The Last Vampire
New Waterford Girl
A Pornographic Affair
Jin Roh (The Wolf Brigade)
Return to Me
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Nobody Knows Anybody
Is Man Good?
Saving Grace
The Virgin Suicides
More reviews...

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Ring of Fire
A German animation, a mere sixteen minutes long. Two cowboys in the Wild West search for Beauty in a surreal, stylised landscape which will have you wishing for a slow motion button just to catch all the glorious details. Captivating.

La Comtessa de Castiglione
Inspired by a photograph of the real Comtessa in 1855 with a little David Lynch thrown in, this short is filmed in sepia tones with an old camera. The result is a dream like vision, meticulously orchestrated.

Blood: The Last Vampire
Saya is a vampire slayer posing as a school girl. Her mission: to track down three demon-like vampires tormenting an American base. Blood is the first fully digitally animated anime, and if this is the future of animation it's stylish and impressive.

A mere fifty minutes long, the dialogue is almost all in English (to make it more accessible to Western audiences?) so at least you don't have to worry about missing any sub-titles. There's a little stereotyping, and character development is minimal, but sit back and enjoy the stunning visuals.

New Waterford Girl
An unexpected pleasure, this charming rites-of-passage film charts the progress of Moonie, a fifteen year old wanna be writer who yearns to leave the tiny Nova Scotia town that has been her home all her life.

Moonie's plans receive a boost with the arrival next door of Lou, a street wise blonde from the Bronx, laying low with her mother. Lou's not afraid of upsetting the local yokels, and together they hatch a plan for escape.

See it on the big screen to immerse yourself in the cliff-top beauty of the windswept location. It looks as well as feels like the end of the earth, a place more like an island than the edge of a country as big as Canada.

I really enjoyed this film: the characterisations are warm and generous and Andrew McCarthy surprises in a turn as Maths teacher/hero doing his best for the girl he loves. Both of the leads are great too: Liane Balaban is gorgeously gawky with her moody dark looks as Moonie and Tara Spencer-Nairn as Lou is the best friend every adolescent girl needs. The film is empowering and uplifting, definitely feel good but with depth and freshness to burn. Highly recommended.

A Pornographic Affair
Another great film: I really hope this gets a cinema release as boy does it deserve it.

Don't be put off by the title. The fim has little sexual content and in fact details the developing relationship between two people who meet as a result of a desire to enact a particular fantasy. They relate their stories seperately to an impartial interviewer, in flashback.

The story is simple and effective. The characters believable and honest.

Could anyone other than France produce a film such as this? Interestingly, the fim will be released in America under the title "An Affair of Love". Highly recommended.

Dateline: Friday 21st July, 2000

Jin Roh (The Wolf Brigade)
Made by the same production house as Blood: The Last Vampire, this is the last anime produced prior to digitallising. A full length film, the plot and the characters are better developed.

Fuse is a member of Special Unit, trained to crush resistance from anti-government guerilla groups. When a young girl detonates a bomb in front of him, killing herself in the process, he finds himself ill-equipped to deal with the aftermath. Why didn't Fuse shoot her? All is not as it seems in this complex plot which twists and turns.

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Dateline: Saturday 22nd July, 2000

Return to Me
Bob (David Duchovny) and Elizabeth (Joely Richardson) are happy childhood sweethearts, their love shattered by a fatal car accident.

Elizabeth's heart is donated to Grace (Minnie Driver), a young woman who has never known love until…..yes, you guessed it, it's Hollywood formula romance land. Tear jerking and all.

This is an unashamedly commercial production. You know what's going to happen but it still delivers the soppy romantic goods. Duchovny and Driver work well together but apart from the slickness of the production and the way the plot sticks so faithfully to the genre, it's nothing spectacular and not really festival fodder. Still, there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Did Tammy Faye know she was going to be sent up so mercilessly? Probably Ru Paul doing the voice-over gave her a hint, and those puppets introducing each segment did as well. Oh boy, oh boy. Do we laugh or cry?

I have a heap more respect for Tammy Faye Bakker Messner after spending a couple of hours watching the sad tale of her rise and fall. A survivor, she's been through quite a lot and it's made her stronger and dammit, she just keeps on singing as well. All forty albums worth (and not all of them Christian either).

As one of the interviewees put it "After the Apocalyse the only things left will be cockroaches, Cher and Tammy Faye".

What a woman.

Nobody Knows Anybody
They pulled out all the stops in this Spanish thriller set in Seville during the Holy Week festivities. Part travelogue, part action packed romance, you'll be swept away by it all.

Simon writes crosswords puzzles for the local paper and is intrigued when one day he receives a message to include the word "adversary" in the next puzzle. Soon, a chain of bizarre murders enmesh him and before he knows what's happening (what a surprise) he's the prime suspect. But the plot has a few interesting twists yet.

The visuals are gorgeous, not least of all the leading man and the ancient city of Seville. My favourite was the spectacular climax.

Is Man Good?
A small, perfectly formed piece of science fiction. Straight to the point, well executed and very effective.

"I'd like to see a feature as good as that" (Petri)

In 1910 Doctor Yukio appears to have it all: a respected war record, a successful surgery and a beautiful new wife Rin. But then strange things start to happen…both his parents die bizarrely and then someone throws Yukio down a well and tortures him by revealing the "truth" about Rin.

This film could have been about many things, and worked on many different levels. But it didn't. The only film I have seen so far where people left before the end and no one clapped.

Saving Grace reviewed here Dateline: Sunday 23rd July, 2000

The Virgin Suicides More ...

Send your comments or review Nicky Jenkins

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