To give you a flavour of 2018 Sydney Film Festival, I'm going to be compiling 'capsule' sized reviews of every film that I caught. The only exceptions to this will be those films that have a guaranteed an Australian cinematic release, in which case you may see a capsule review that forms the bedrock for a more extensive analysis of the movie.
The Blood of Wolves (2018)
Kazuya Shiraishi’s movie is a throwback to the good old days where good cops were required to misbehave. The story begins in 1988, in Hiroshima, Japan where longtime detective Ōgami (Kôji Yakusho - “13 Assassins”) is stuck refereeing a stoush between two Yakuza clans unwilling to share the sea-side city. Rookie Hioka (Tôri Matsuzaka) is a squeaky clean recruit sent to observe Ōgami. Yûko Yuzuki and Junya Ikegami adapted the story from Yuzuki’s 2015 novel Lone Wolf’s Blood bites off slightly more than it can chew with this tasty stew of elements that recall “Training Day” (2001), “Infernal Affairs” (2002) and “Bad Lieutenant.” Shiraishi and cinematographer Takahiro Haibara find an aesthetic intent on taking the gloss and glamour out of this turf war. From the outset, you’re watching fingers being trimmed like a stubborn hedge, severed heads in urinals, non-compliant civilians punished with pig shit as their final meal (including a truly grotesque shot of an up close and personal shot of pig’s pucker producing the goods). The film belongs to Yakusho, whose Ōgami struts through the entire film willing to go to any lengths to contain the violence to the criminal fraternity. The film starts with a bang. The twists eventually get so “twisty” that narration swoops in to do the heavy lifting, unsuccessfully.
Isabella Eklöf’s audacious debut tells the story of what needs to be suppressed to be possessed. The story takes place in Bodrum on the Turkish Riviera, where the beautiful Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne) joins wealthy older man Michael (Lai Yde), as the perfect attractive accessory for his decadent holiday. Sascha quickly settles into a life where she’s increasingly blind to the dangers that surround her. She rides a Vespa along the picturesque Aegean Coast wearing a scarf licking the breeze, begging to be swallowed into the spokes of a speeding wheel. She relishes the flirtatious advances from a young traveller despite watching the consequences of Michael – a ruthless drug dealer by trade – being disappointed (he disciplines an underling’s failure with a brutal beating). Eklöf and cinematographer Nadim Carlsen obsessively and patiently frame Sascha throughout the film. Eklöf toggles the perspectives; appraising her front in an attempt to break through to her mindset in this situation. In contrast, the camera perilously perches from behind her; giving the feeling of always being watched and that she's likely to be abducted. For at least an hour of the film, save for a brief explosive reprimand at the beginning of the movie, “Holiday” operates at a glacial pace. Eklöf and cowriter Johanne Algren seem to exclude scenes where the ‘action’ takes place. This buildup eventually sets the stage for several climactic (climax in more ways than one) moments in the final half hour of the film. The conclusion features a violent display of sexual power conducted with the nonchalance of mopping a floor; tirades that insist on the character’s self-denial which elicit fatal hostility; and acceptance of a disturbed bargain. This nightmarish “Holiday” isn’t one you’ll likely forget.
West of Sunshine (2017)
Jason Raftopoulos’ West of Sunshine is an agonising endurance test for your empathy. Damian Hill plays gambling degenerate Jim, who, after destroying his marriage and career is scraping by as a courier driver. Jim’s friends, those that he has left, are either waking up to the fact that he’s the kind of guy whose friendship leaves a stain. We’re introduced to Jim when he owes fifteen thousand dollars to a bookie that’s losing patience, has bet his last money on a long shot horse race and must juggle his commitment to caring for his estranged son Alex (Ty Perham). Co-worker and commuter Steve (Arthur Angel), has come to the end of his tether being asked impossible favours in the no-win situations. Jenny (Eliza D'Souza) feels like something is blossoming with Jim until she realises that a brief sexual dalliance, results in being asked to be day-care for Jim’s son Alex. Cinematographer Thom Neal frames rarely seen suburban Melbourne with warmth and potential. Raftopoulos though wants the audience to be aware that in this warren of suburbia amidst dens of self-medication. Raftopoulos sways between pity for Jim and his emblem for genetically shoddy fatherhood (his classic car) and this ‘Hail Mary’ shot for redemption; and his deeply disturbing, egregious and unforgivable negligence. If West of Sunshine is a tale of redemption, then it’s cheap.
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.