Sunday, 25 June 2017

SFF 2017: The Rest of the Fest

Sydney Film Festival '17 has wrapped, so here's some capsules for the remainder of the movies that I caught this year (you'll find reviews for THE UNTAMED and THE LITTLE HOURS below this).

Simon Rumley's FASHIONISTA is his most assured film since debuting with the singularly weird THE LIVING AND THE DEAD. Anchored by an awards worthy performance from Amanda Fuller (and a welcome return to the genre for STARRY EYES' Alex Essoe), FASHIONISTA begins as a fairly straightforward narrative, but soon fractures into a multi-timeline mindfuck which will have you straining to keep up with all the threads. Movies like this can be a chore, and this screening did have more than its fair share of walkouts, but I found Rumley's arthouse horror tribute to the films of Nicolas Roeg to be a very rewarding trip.

LADY MACBETH is director William Oldroyd's first feature, and on his first outing he's crafted a period thriller that's bound for cult status. It features a riveting performance from Florence Pugh as feminist firebrand Katherine, as she rebels against misogynistic oppression in the loveless marriage that she's been sold into. The part must have been a dream role for Pugh, as it follows a sensational arc that sees her going from hapless victim to mischievous rebel to triumphant avenger to... well, that would spoil the fun! Hers isn't the only scene stealing to be savoured either, with Paul Hilton and Christopher Fairbank turning in deliciously vile turns as Katherine's husband and his industrialist monster of a father. Sumptuously shot exteriors of moors and woods, and the gloom-filled interiors of Katherine's mansion-cum-prison (all captured with available light) give the film a perfectly Brontë-esque atmosphere, albeit one with a bit more murdering than your usual bodice-ripper.

After writing the superb screenplays for SICARIO and HELL OR HIGH WATER, expectations for Taylor Sheridan's first time out as both writer and director have been incredibly high. Did he deliver? Yes and no. WIND RIVER's characters and dialogue are decidedly more Hollywood-generic than the above mentioned masterpieces, but there's too much that does work in Sheridan's snowbound thriller to call it a disappointment. The characters aren't all weak, and in the film's meatiest role Jeremy Renner turns in his most satisfying performance since THE HURT LOCKER. Ben Richardson's location cinematography (in a very cold looking Utah) is absolutely stunning, making this required big screen viewing. Seriously, if you're planning on see this, do so on the biggest and best cinema screen you can find. All that aside however, WIND RIVER succeeds mostly because as a high-stakes cops vs criminals thriller it really delivers the goods when it counts. I'm talking gruesome procedural detail, harrowing tension and some cheer-worthy and very cathartic violence. Based on this I think we can expect good things from Sheridan in the future.

If you've been paying attention, you'll know that I've got my gaze firmly fixed on Italian director Luca Guadagnino, whose SUSPIRIA remake is currently in post. His latest film, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, is a coming of age romance that is as close to perfection as the genre gets. Guadagnino captures that feeling of nostalgia, the bittersweet elation and pain of sexual awakening and first love, but without the sentimentality that so often pervades movies of this type. It's also refreshing to see this well-trodden material depicted from the standpoint of a young gay man, and to that end both Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet (neither of whom are gay as far as I know) create a chemistry that just bleeds off the screen. Pure, honest, unpretentious and moving, this is one hot Italian summer holiday that you need to take.

Sofia Coppola's first genre film is a dreamily languid affair, dripping with as much Southern Gothic atmosphere as its woods drip with Spanish moss. THE BEGUILED, a remake of Don Siegel's 1971 Clint Eastwood starrer, opens with Colin Farrell's wounded Union soldier finding refuge in an almost abandoned girl's school, situated alarmingly close to the Virginia battlefield he just deserted. The remaining Southern belles (a small group of teachers, students and the school's head mistress) are at first wary of their captive guest, but caution for this charmingly hunky enemy soon gives way to lust... and lust to games and betrayal. There's an almost somnambulistic quality to THE BEGUILED, so much so that I found myself drifting off a bit in the first act, but this is obviously calculated to make the jolt that is to come that much more alarming. Elle Fanning, fresh of the set of THE NEON DEMON, and Coppola regular Kirsten Dunst turn in solid performances, but it's Nicole Kidman's austere, repressed madame who steals the show here. Despite good reviews, I don't think this is Coppola's finest moment. It's a good film to be sure, but considering the potential of the subject matter I found it to be a bit slight. That said, there's plenty to enjoy here, with its strongest asset being an often hilarious comedic streak that I wasn't expecting at all.

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