I caught a strong, yet eclectic selection of films today, from as far-flung corners of the globe as Australia, Israel and the UK. While the overall quality may have declined as the day wore on, the weakest of the bunch still had a great deal to offer, and the best films were genuine standouts in what has already proved itself to be an incredibly strong line-up.
Day 4 (25 March)
Wish You Were Here (dir. Kieran Darcy-Smith, Australia)
Various assorted cast and crew members from David Michod's Animal Kingdom come together for this fantastic character-based drama about two Australian couples, who head to Cambodia for a hedonistic week of sun, sand and assorted drug-infused debauchery, only to return one man light. As David (Joel Edgerton) and Alice (co-writer Felicity Price) attempt to get back to their lives and two young children, the fractured details and memories of what went on back in South East Asia are slowly pieced together through discussions, flashbacks and police interrogations. Needless to say the story ventures into some pretty dark territory and is totally gripping throughout thanks to excellent performances from Edgerton, Flannery and Teresa Palmer as younger sister Steph. While the film works incredibly well as a straight forward domestic drama turned nightmare abroad, it also ventures deeper into the West's relationship with this part of Asia, how foreigners invade for the glorious weather and cheap entertainment, while feigning a superificial interest in the culture as they exploit the locals any way they can. Never preachy and riveting throughout, Wish You Were Here deserves every bit of the success and critical acclaim awarded other recent Australian hits Animal Kingdom and Snowtown.
Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (dir. Alex Stapleton, USA)
Following hot on the heels of Mark Hartley's excellent Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed, Stapleton takes dead aim at the "King of the Bs" himself and explores his phenomenal 50 years in the industry, from his beginnings as a script editor, through his glory days in the 60s and again in the 80s, to his current situation shooting SyFy Channel schlock like Dinoshark. Boasting an incredible array of interviewees including Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich and most notably an incredibly candd and emotional Jack Nicholson, the film offers up pretty much everything one would want to know about the great producer/director and just like with Hartley's films, needs to be watched with pen and paper in hand to frantically scribble down the dozens of titles to then seek out and enjoy. If I'm honest there wasn't a great deal in the film that I didn't already know, but that is not fault of the film's, which serves as a wonderfully entertaining testament to Corman and his legacy.
Policeman (dir. Nadav Lapid, Israel)
An intriguing dissection of masculinity, loyalty and team dynamics that focuses in its first half on the ultra macho "fighter police" of Tel Aviv's counter terrorist squad - in particular squad leader, Yaron (played by Yiftach Klein) who is expecting his first child while still chasing skirt and trying to pressure an ailing teammate into taking the rap for a shooting that went awry. At about the 40-minute mark the film turns its attentions completely to a militant terrorist cell planning a hostage-taking, only to then bring the two sides of the situation together in predictably violent fashion in the film's final act. Policeman works best when examining the bullish, yet emotionally fragile egos of these testosterone trained "protectors" and how they interact with each other, their significant others and society as a whole. The terrorists themselves are less clearly defined and somewhat muddled in their motivations and actions - but perhaps that is Lapid's point. There is humour to be had throughout, though often in the form of quietly mocking the extremes to which these characters go, but there is also a frightening reality being presented about those on the frontlines and their ability or inability to effectively carry out the tasks at hand.
My Brother The Devil (dir. Sally El Hosaini, UK)
The story of two brothers from an Egyptian Muslim family growing up in the mean streets of Hackney, East London, smacks of realism right from the get-go. Older brother Rash (James Floyd) deals drugs on the streets, but after an altercation with another gang leaves his best friend dead he starts looking for a way out, just as younger brother Mo (Fady Elsayed) decides he's old enough to start muscling in on the action. While the setting feels frighteningly authentic at times, the spectres of Do The Right Thing, Boyz N The Hood, La Haine and countless others hang heavy over the project. There are a few curveballs in the narrative that work to the script's advantage, even if their decision to take the story in Direction B rather than the more obvious Direction A ultimately makes the story feel somewhat dated and after-the-fact, it is bolstered by a dependable cast, with Floyd particularly impressive in the sympathetic central role.
There is still more than a week to go at HKIFF so do keep coming back for more.
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