Movie Madness

Sydney Film Festival 2016: Memories of a Devotee

imageCompared with some past festivals, this year’s SFF was of an exceptionally high standard.  The plush surrounds of the iconic State Theatre added to the intense and slightly guilty  pleasure of a fortnight immersed in film. Outstanding selections included the Canadian feature ‘It’s Only the End of the World‘, about a terminally ill gay man facing his dysfunctional family, ‘Fukushima, Mon Amour‘, a bitter-sweet reflection on love and life with a touch of magic-realism,  ‘Aquarius‘, a semi-fictional tale of one woman’s valiant fight against a company of commercial developers, and ‘Winter at Westbeth‘, an inspiring tale of a group of bohemian artists living out their final years in a supportive community in New York. I’d give them all four and a half to five stars.

My first experiences as a Sydney Film Festival addict date back to the late fifties, while still a student at the University of Sydney with the likes of Germaine Greer, Clive James, John Bell and other such luminaries. We would literally run all over the campus, from the Union to the Wallace to the Woolley Theatres, where we watched offbeat films from all over the world. Movies were even shown in tents erected on campus. Later the Festival had a permanent home at the beautiful Wintergarden Theatre at Rose Bay, long before the SFF became an annual feature of the State Theatre and its surrounds.

Memorable movies from the fifties and sixties include Eisenstein’s epic ‘Battleship Potemkin’, and classics including ‘Last Year at Marienbad’. Favourites of mine included the John Cassavetes series, and anything by Ingmar Bergman. The Bergman retrospective presented by a former director of the Sydney Film Festival, David Stratton, was a recent Festival highlight.

Those were the days! As a young parent in the seventies, I shared a ticket with my partner. We couldn’t afford a babysitter, so we swapped babies with tickets between movies. The main drawback of this system was not being able to debrief with each other after the films. Fast forward forty years: No babysitters needed, and a ticket for everyone. At the 2016 Sydney Film Festival I watched countless movies with those same babies, now adults and, like their parents, equally addicted to the World of Film.

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The Great Ingmar Bergman

Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in 'Persona' 1966
Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in ‘Persona’ 1966

Had the privilege  this long weekend of viewing seven of Bergman’s films, dating from the late forties to the sixties. What a treat! Each movie was introduced by the erudite David Stratton, who shone light on these sometimes dark, deep movies. From the beautiful and horrifying Virgin Spring, to the fascinating psychoanalytical Persona, we were transported to the wild coastlines and dark forests of Sweden, and invited into the psyches of his characters through brilliant close=ups, and monologues that could well emanate from the analyst’s couch. The elegance of Bergman’s direction was obvious, from his mediaeval ‘The Seventh Seal’ in which his main character gambles for his life with the black-garbed Death, to the light-hearted ‘Smiles of a Summer Night’. So interesting to see how Woody Allen’s ‘A MIdsummer Night’s Sex Comedy’ was influenced by this film of Bergman’s. My favourite was ‘The Silence’, about two sisters and their complex relationship, starring Ingrid Thulin and Gunnel Lindblom. This was closely followed by ‘Persona’ in which the identities of two women, played by Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson, merge and diverge in a dreamlike way, so that the viewer sometimes can’t tell which is which. In one anazing close-up, the two faces are blended onto one.