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SFF: Part V

The Sydney Film Festival is in its last stretch finishing this Saturday and it barely drops the quality in its second week. The festival, and its team of organizers and sponsors carry themselves in prestige by providing the very best of films that otherwise may never get screened here. Films that Australians have been waiting for are finally hitting our shores. The ‘Red Hot Docs’ has finally brought down the hotly anticipated Rock School and Tarnation.

The largest strand of the festival’s program, ‘Contemporary World Cinema’, has brought films from numerous nations whose cinema typically isn’t imported here. The second week has had films from nations that range from Mexico, including Duck Season, through to Denmark, most notably Brothers and even to films within our own borders including this year’s answer to Somersault and Oyster Farmer.

Duck Season

Before the feature of Duck Season, a short entitled Pol Pot’s Birthday was screened and was a slice of comical genius. The situation is simple, the staff for brutal dictator Pol Pot sweat as they throw him a surprise birthday party. The awkwardness and absurdity of the situation is never lost, and carefully maintained to ensure laughs until the end.

Typically, I take pleasure in films about nothing as characters hang around by the presence of often-clever dialogue; Clerks and Slacker are amongst my favorite films. Duck Season follows a similar formula but leaves its audience suffering the same boredom that infects its characters. The film, originating from Mexico, never leaves a small apartment where two adolescent boys do nothing on a Sunday. Events are brought to these kids as a neighbor and a Pizza Delivery Man come to the apartment and for reasons, that are sometimes comically absurd, never leave.

It’s about as minimal as a film can get and still draw an audience, but first time feature director Fernando Eimbcke never does anything interesting with his dialogue or confined setting. The dialogue defiantly improves towards the film’s conclusion, particularly after in the scene the four chows down on hash brownies, but by this time it’s too late and the characters are no longer of interest.


Tarnation has been preceded by a lot of hype in Australia, the trailer has been screened in the independent cinemas for a while and reviews have trickled down from its run in festivals. Not surprisingly then it has been one of the only film’s of this year’s festival to sell out a screening. Failing to live up to the hype, the film was a disappointment.

Tarnation is a documentary comprised by the filmmaker, Jonathan Caouette, on the last nineteen years of his life and his relationship with his schizophrenic mother. The clips are too short to ever provide enough insight into the situation as the film jumps. The film may be attempting to reflect the chaos of the filmmaker’s own life, but the audience is never given an opportunity to emotionally engage in his story until the film’s last 20 minutes dealing with the filmmaker as an adult. The final scene of Caouette resting with his mother is sweet, but little substance lies before it.

(Note from Editor): You can be sure I’ll be taking this one up with our contributor from Down Under …. here is my review.

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