East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Auckland International Film Festival: And nothing more

Fateless (Lajos Koltai)
Like most adaptations of good books, there's a gain in immediacy and a loss in psychological detail. You might expect this to be fatal, given that psychological detail is the key to this novel's success. Kertész's adaptation sticks closely to his book, deploying as necessary a narration that, though light-handed, isn't as revealing of the protagonist's mindstate as his prose is. And while the young actor Marcell Nagy is very good, such illumination is beyond him as well.

What we get in compensation is the physical reality of camp life. Once György is rounded up, Koltai depicts the action in brief scenes -- he rarely shows a given routine more than once, but he makes their cumulative momentum seem relentless. When the colour drains from the movie, Koltai inevitably borrows from Spielberg, for example the gas-chamber feeling of the showers. But he sometimes improves: the splotch of red that breaks the descent is all the more startling for its setting, an SS camp.

When our Gyuri is at his most pathetic and some souls are willing to help him, sentiment does creeps into the construction. It's effective because of the way such moments of goodness uneasily settle into Kertész's worldview. Unlike Spielberg, he thinks those who survived the camps can never escape them, and might not want to. Life isn't always beautiful, but if it's your life, it's your life.

Jindabyne (Ray Lawrence)
Lawrence made the pretty good Lantana a few years back; here he treads the same territory, transposed to the New South Wales bush, with moderately improved results. Excepting a couple of kids who turn up periodically to annoy their parents and the audience, the story of four guys on a fishing trip who discover a woman's corpse and must decide whether to report their find, which would require the ultimate sacrifice -- they'd have to stop fishing -- is overstuffed as neatly as a New Yorker tale (it's based on a Carver story, meaning Short Cuts is some bastard relation). The murder mystery element is downplayed even more than in Lantana -- the audience knows whodunnit from the get go, and Lawrence merely extracts from this some cheap irony and a little suspense (ooh! Scary truck driver approaching Laura Linney!) Lawrence's major achievement this time might be to make the fishing trip seem so idyllic that it's worth becoming a pariah status for an extra day out. But he's shooting in the Snowy Mountains, so it's not that hard.

Most of the burden is placed on the actors, who come through; the foreign budget-attractors are Gabriel Byrne (who's isn't blokey enough, but who works hard) and Linney (who's even more out of place, and milks this); best of the locals are John Howard (no, not that one) and, as the unconsciously vicious grandma, Betty Lucas. There's a nod to cultural differences between the Aborigines and the white small-towners, andsome extraneous Catholicism, but ultimately the movie has more to say about gender. The women of course can't comprehend even thinking about not reporting the body, and Linney's American character takes this the furthest, approaching the family of the dead woman even after they've told her to piss off. If she seems out of place, so is the whole town -- Jindabyne was shifted in the Sixties to satisify the exigencies of hydroelectric generation; the old town is underwater, but its spirit is still around. According to this movie, that might not be such a good thing.

Squeegee Bandit (Sándor Lau)
Sándor is a friend so I'm hardly objective, but you should see this. It follows Starfish, a charismatic New Zealander of no fixed abode, who lives off tips obtained from washing windscreens at red lights. The main attraction is the magnetism of the guy, whose fast-talking, jovial sponge-spinning regularly takes on a more disconcerting tone when, angered by the law's endeavours to cut off his livelihood or his old family's attempts to distance themselves, he dashes off what must be a record string of F-bombs in a New Zealand movie. While one of his colleagues recounts two centuries of mistreatment of Maori, in Starfish's introspective moments he recalls past violences with rage or or regret or justification or all of the above. The inclusion of archival footage, made from the '40s to 60s by the National Film Unit or something, to prime the audience on said history of colonialism is glib, but the footage itself is jawdropping, and would justify its own feature (Southern Crossed to Death?), though no one would watch it. Starfish was at the screening (looking, in his words, "more like a blowfish") claiming he was a changed man -- because of a woman, of course -- and, patronising or not, one has to hope he's right, but also that he hasn't lost his edge.


  • At 10:07 AM, Blogger girish said…

    Hey Brad, these reports from the fest are great.

    Remember: if you happen to catch some avant-garde at the fest (or elsewhere) you can join us in the avant-garde blog-a-thon on Aug. 2.

    Have a fun rest-of-the-fest.


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