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Saturday
Jun092012

BEAUTY

Stars: Deon Lotz, Charlie Keegan, Sue Diepeveen, Roeline Daneel, Albert Maritz and Michelle Scott.
Writer: Oliver Hermanus and Didier Costet.
Director: Oliver Hermanus.

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Sun 10 Jun 8.30pm; Mon 11 Jun 8.15pm.

Rating: 4/5


Repression is a key theme in Oliver Hermanus’ Beauty and one made all the more potent by the production’s homeland, South Africa. The story of a white, middle-class businessman who has structured his life so that he may live out his homosexuality in a private shame, the sophomore feature from the director of the acclaimed Shirley Adams is an intensely-focussed, gruelling drama.

The ambiguously-titled film tells of a human forced to live an unacceptable reality in the eyes of the society he has created. The misguided sense of entitlement that still simmers for much of older white South Africa in the nation’s post-apartheid era infuses Beauty. As the brawny, steely-eyed Francois, leading man Deon Lotz is an archetypal Afrikaan alpha-male; his generation has already experienced a tide of social change that has robbed him of an aspect his people’s defining history, albeit a shameful one. That Francois must also hide his sexuality is a further denial of his true self and soon, the tenuous grip he has of the personal and professional facade he maintains daily begins to slip.

With his bald, bony pate and intense stare, shadowed under a prominent eyebrow ridge, Lotz’s Francois is a Silverback gorilla of a man. The boundaries he enforces over every aspect of his compartmentalized existence is maintained with fierce clarity. His marriage to Elena (Michelle Scott) is one of superficial suburban routine (she has her own sexual secrets); his disdain for his daughter Anika (Roeline Daneel) and her youthful freedom is plainly obvious. His indulgence is a weekly get-together at a remote property with other like-minded closeted men, where they indulge in manly banter and beer-drinking before sessions of rough sex.

Francois’ life changes when he becomes infatuated with dashing law student Christian (Charlie Keegan), the son of a family friend whom he glimpses at a wedding in the film’s stunning opening sequence. As his life becomes entirely about stalking Christian, Francois’ tightly-bound existence and the psychological rigidity that life demands begins to unravel. When his repressed state finally emerges, it is as a sickening act of sexual violence that is certain to leave faint-hearted viewers shaken (several hardened critics looked away at the preview screening that SCREEN-SPACE attended; the film’s hopes of gaining wider, non-festival exposure sans censorship cuts are slim).

Hermanus and his cinematographer Jamie Ramsay find much that is beautiful in Beauty. Long, still shots of Lotz in close-up are unusually serene, or at least until the sense of predation and its inevitable outcome become dominant; the framing reflects the control Francois exerts to maintain his life.

The final scenes suggest a degree of pity for the man, that had he followed a path truer to his real self he may have lived a fuller, happier life. Hermanus is asking a lot of his audience to recognise remorse in Francois and understanding in our view of him, but the young director is clearly not above taking bold risks that demand consideration. Beauty is a confronting work that succeeds as a study of a false life lived badly and as a reflection upon a society grasping at traditional views to its own detriment.

Friday
Jun082012

┬íVIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS!

Director: Victor Kossakovsky
Running time: 108 minutes

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Fri 3 Aug, 4.00pm; Tue 7 Aug, 6.30pm; Sat 11 Aug 11.00am.

Rating: 4.5/5


As debate rages as to who whether the Brothers Lumiere or Thomas Edison should get credit for inventing the movie camera, one thing is certain – their collective hearts would swell with pride if they could seen what Victor Kossakovsky had done with light and image in ¡Vivan las Antipodas!

The Russian-born documentarian has created one of the most visually awe-inspiring films since Ron Fricke’s landmark enviro-travelogue Baraka left audiences breathless in 1992. Be it vast frames made still but for the panting of an old dog or swirling aerial images of violent confrontations between rivers of lava and the chill of the sea, Kossakovsky’s lens captures the beauty and complexities of man and natures shared existence.

The premise is a simple one. Kossakovsky imagined how different life would be between one point on the global surface and its polar opposite. Therefore, we enjoy the company of two droll toll collectors living a life of solitude in Entre Rios in the Argentine countryside, only to have the director flip his perspective 180 degrees to its antipodean counterpart – the grand metropolis that is modern-day Shanghai. And so it goes...from a the majesty of Russia’s Lake Baikal region to a shepherd’s ramshackle hut in chilly Patagonia; from the blackened landscape of Hawaii’s volcanic coast to a dusty Botswanan village; and, from the a rocky outpost in Miraflores, Spain, to a beach at Castle Point on New Zealand’s South Island, where a great whale has grounded itself.

After the initial wonder at the images on-screen subsides (it never completely disappears), intellectualising the narrative-free imagery leads to the conclusion that, like Baraka and Godfrey Reggio’s ‘Qatsi’ trilogy (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi), ¡Vivan las Antipodas! is most concerned with painting a portrait of mankind as a single entity. Each of the disparate regions and their inhabitants share such commonalities as weather, the curve of the landscape and various co-habitants (the presence of animals and their relationship to man is common throughout). ‘We are one’ may have seemed like a twee message in the hands of a lesser artist, but Kossakovsky handles it with grace and intelligence.

It may be all too ethereal for some. There were some walk-outs during the SFF screening I attended, patrons no doubt expecting a more traditional documentary approach (ie, narration) that states and restates the filmmakers intention. But that wouldn’t have worked in the case of ¡Vivan las Antipodas!; it is a film concerned with man’s experience on the planet and, as such, is best viewed in that context. It asks its viewers to examine their own place in the world by glimpsing the vast sameness of us all, regardless of time and place.

Oh, and for the record, Sydney was never an option for inclusion in ¡Vivan las Antipodas! The point on the map directly opposite the CBD is....well, look for yourself....

Thursday
Jun072012

NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN

Stars: Ryan Kwanten, Sarah Snook, Ryan Corr, Bojana Novakovic, Laura Brent, Lewis Fitzgerald, Susan Prior and Zoe Carides.
Writer: Michael Lucas.
Director: Peter Templeman.
Running time: 97 minutes.

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screening - Sat 9 Jun 4.00pm.

Rating: 3.5/5


A coarse but skilfully told tale of one hedonistic 20-something’s forced appraisal of his mortal legacy, Peter Templeman’s Not Suitable for Children takes the multi-tiered meaning of its title very seriously; this is not the film to choose to resurrect your ‘family-trip-to-the-movies’ tradition. The more open-minded viewer, however, will enjoy a warm, funny, contemporary comedy-drama that will serve the director and, in particular, leading lady Sarah Snook very well as it secures thoroughly-deserving festival exposure and limited release internationally.

Perth-born Templeman and scripter Michael Lucas have taken that most easy-to-dislike modern archetype – the smug, inner-city douche-bag male – and made him the believable focus of a film that trades in crude posturing only to reveal a sweet, romantic essence that is very endearing. Aided immeasurably by a tremendously winning lead performance by Ryan Kwanten, Not Suitable for Children proves that the slick execution of smart, funny scripts is not above the Australian film sector (though, admittedly, it’s been a while between examples).

Kwanten plays Jonah, one-third of a share household in Sydney’s arty, ultra-cool inner-west. With housemates Gus (Ryan Corr) and Stevie (Snook), they organise enormous street-parties that have become events of legend. One of the film’s great assets is the convincing vibe that Templeman captures in his staging of the raves; these look and feel like awesome gatherings at which everyone is having a blast. Jonah’s latest sexual conquest notices a lump on his testicle and, in some deft narrative packaging of key moments in Jonah’s changing reality, we learn of his affliction, the treatment and that the young man’s seed cannot survive storage.

Faced with the prospect of a lonely life sans children, Jonah sets out to woo and impregnate whichever of his acquaintances agrees to carry his child. Gus and Stevie think it a bad idea and go all out to derail it, until Stevie begins to warm to the idea. First she introduces Jonah to a lesbian couple looking for a donor, scenes which deliver some of the film’s biggest laughs; then, she surprisingly finds her own inner cluckiness kicking into gear.

The utterly preposterous machinations of the concept are never an issue in the assured hands of the debutant director. He also owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to his casting team, who have unearthed a truly international talent in Sarah Snook. With her strong onscreen presence tempered by an adorability that is infectious and comic smarts well beyond her years and experience, her Hollywood doppelganger Emma Stone better keep looking over her shoulder; Snook will be stealing roles from her within the year. Some frenzied sex scenes with Kwanten are the culmination of an on-screen pairing rich in an all-too-rare chemistry.

Templeman stumbles a little with a mid-section that disrupts the tempo of his film. The writing and staging of individual scenes work but don’t necessarily strengthen nor progress the narrative. Jonah’s rendezvous with a 40-something prospect, played by the always reliable Susan Prior, seemed extraneous; Snook makes Stevie’s third-act clash with the self-centred Jonah mostly work, but it’s the least convincing moment of character development in the film.

But the generally warm feelings one is left with and the loving camerawork of Lachlan Milne, who colourfully captures some rarely-seen parts of Australia’s East coast metropolis in the terrific widescreen ratio, makes Not Suitable for Children a perfectly justifiable choice for the Sydney Film Festival’s opening night honours. Faith and diligence from distributor Icon, who have every reason to believe they have a sleeper hit on their hands, should ensure it hits big with its target audience.

Wednesday
Jun062012

TATSUMI

Stars: Tetsuya Bessho, Motoko Gollent, Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Mike Wiluan.
Writer/Director: Eric Khoo
Running time: 96 minutes

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Wed 6 Jun 8.45pm; Sat 9 Jun 7.30pm.

Rating: 4.5/5


Singaporean animator Eric Khoo has crafted a stunning biographical portrait of gekiga master Yoshihiro Tatsumi. In this at times jaw-droppingly beautiful work, Khoo has captured the life journey of an extraordinary talent while, at the same time, firmly establishing himself as same.

‘Gekiga’ works, quietly appearing in the late 1950’s, were cartoon stories for adult readers that immediately drew the ire of moral crusaders. Tatsumi’s books was celebrated by underground followers through the radicalized 60s, though rarely given its full credit until well after the artist had reached middle age. Khoo’s film will go a long way to immortalizing Tatsumi’s skill as both a disciplined exponent of a unique artform and a biting commentator on the progress of his homeland as it rebuilt. His dark slices of sad life, of the disenfranchised and the hopeless, of a land and population exploited by the might of a conquering force, are some of the most profound records of a difficult time in a nations rebirth.

Utilising Tatsumi’s autobiography A Drifting Life as the basis for a study of the man and his art, Khoo intercuts short vignettes that capture the formative years of the now 76 year-old’s life with graphic manifestations of some of his most famous works. Of those, the sepia-toned ‘Hell’, an account of a young wartime photographer and his experiences documenting the horrors of Hiroshima in the days after the A-bomb dropped, is perhaps the most challenging.

All the self-contained short-stories possess their own dark charms; the others are based on works entitled Beloved Monkey, Just A Man, Good-Bye and Occupied. They reflect Tatsumi’s years as a young man in a post-war Japan struggling to recapture its traditional honour and social structure. The decline and demise of the unskilled, damaged young man whose life is deemed worthless by the state; a prostitute whose sense of self is so decrepit she beds her father as the final act of defiance against honourable traditions; and, most tellingly, the cartoonist whose work so riles the establishment he is reduced to scribbling his art on public bathroom walls  

In addition to the animation sequences (overseen by Singapore-based ex-pat Phil Mitchell), a coda provides footage of the man today and the methods he utilises to bring his detailed worlds to life; Tatsumi himself narrates key passages of Khoo’s film. The overall impact is one of the art reflecting upon the artist, of characters chronicling the formation and maturation of their creator. Khoo has honoured a true national treasure by masterfully mimicking the stylings by which the artist is best-known; it will be a deeply affecting introduction to the works of Yoshihiro Tatsumi for many whose exposure to manga animation has been limited to countless variations on neo-noir steam-punk themes and white-pantied teen-girl fetishism.   

Tuesday
Jun052012

LAST CALL AT THE OASIS

Writer/Director: Jessica Yu

Running time: 95 mins

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Sun 10 Jun 6.00pm; Mon 11 Jun 4.00pm.

Rating: 3/5


Over the last few years, documentarians have gotten angrier. Putting the heavily-politicized films of Michael Moore aside, video chroniclers have led the battle-cry to conserve our resources (Leila and Nadia Conners’ The 11th Hour), contain our consumerism (Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Story Ever Sold) and protect our species (Robert Kenner’s Food Inc). Factual filmmakers are the new crusaders, their artform grasping complacent audiences and nudging, tickling, prodding or, occasionally, bludgeoning them into action.

The latest entertaining cage-rattler is Jessica Yu, whose accomplished Last Call at the Oasis provides a convincing account of the flashpoint mankind finds itself at over the very substance that keeps us alive – water. Working with the production team who turned an Al Gore lecture series into one of the most successful docos ever, An Inconvenient Truth, Yu examines the misuse and abuse employed via traditional aqua-technology methods.

She adheres to what is becoming a fairly standard modus operandi for the high-end modern doco-maker – dry stats presented as cute animation, sly humour and eccentric characters intercut with the inherent human cost of her cause. Scenes involving the dying Australian landscape and the impact upon the men and their families who fight to save their stock are the most empathetically engaging in Last Call at the Oasis.

Yu leans a little heavily on the science of her argument and her film bogs down slightly at the midway point. There is also a tendency to jump from one argumentative component (the insidious practice of fracking, let’s say) to another (the exploitative bottled-water industry) with a series of rather too tenuous links, giving the work an occasionally disjointed momentum. Real-life crusader Erin Brokovich adds an air of resignation to one township’s fight against governmental largesse, her presence a reminder as to the far-reaching (some might say, insurmountable) implications of this issue.

Unlike the longterm causes and remedies for global warming, many of the solutions to the water crisis, as presented with simple precision in Last Call at The Oasis, are able to be applied with haste. As effective as Yu’s film is in conveying its message, its true impact will best be measured in the next half decade.

Sunday
Jun032012

CAPTIVE

Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Kathy Mulville, Mark Zanetta, Maria Isabel Lopez, Rustica Carpio, Joel Torre, Mercedes Cabral, Madeleine Nicolas and Timothy Mabalot.
Writers: Brillante Mendoza, Patrick Bancarel, Boots Agbayani Pastor and Arlyn dela Cruz.
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Running time: 120 minutes.

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Sun 10 Jun 6.30pm; Mon 11 Jun 4.15pm.

Rating: 3.5/5


The Sydney Film Festival’s love affair with the works of Brilliante Mendoza continues under the new regime with their selection of his (mostly) compelling true-story, Captive. The Phillipino-born director, who was programmed in 2008 (Foster Child) and twice in 2010 (Kinatay, Lola), presents a dramatically potent, psychologically complex staging of the year-long hostage crisis that began with the kidnapping of several internationals from an island resort in Palawan in 2001.

The film begins with the frantic, terrifying seizure of the hostages from the South-East Asian island resort. A ruthless band of Islamic separatists called The Abu Sayyaf Group, fighting for the liberation of Mindanao Island, steal away a large group of mixed nationals, amongst them social worker Theresa Bourgoine (Isabelle Huppert). It is largely through her experience that the drama of the story unfolds; increasingly pragmatic about the denied access to her life and family back home in France, Bourgoine becomes a wily intermediary between the captors and her fellow prisoners.

Captive is very much a film of two distinct halves. From the opening night-time raid to a fierce gun battle between the kidnappers and police and army (staged in a hospital and intercut with a real-time, graphic birthing drama), Mendoza first-hour is viscerally charged; he captures the dizzying confusion and growing sense of desperation that the initial weeks of the crisis represented to both captor and captive.

As the weeks merge into months, the film begins to reflect the accepted reality of the hostages – personalities emerge; relationships are formed (one hostage marries her captor; Therese all but adopts a teenage radical); random acts of violence occur that reinforce the horror of their situation (wounded hostages or those whose financial means will not cover ransom demands are considered worthless and disposed of). A stagnating resignation as to their plight sets in that the film all too convincingly portrays; after the pulsating opening hour, the film winds down considerably with perhaps too much ‘trudging through the rainforest’ footage.

It is a story of strangers in a strange land, of those whose nationalities and faiths are questioned by ruthless men possessed of a violent passion in an environment that is foreign and dangerous. Mendoza adds some lyrical flourishes as the film draws to an end, suggesting that after a year in the wilderness and feeling largely forgotten by western officials, Theresa is on the verge of becoming one with the land. Mendoza’s riff on ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ psychology indicates he is a filmmaker continually developing his filmic take on humanity.

But Captive takes a frustratingly inert stance on the politics it portrays; audiences may have appreciated knowing where the film-maker stood on the issue of island-state independence in his homeland. The film is an engaging, technically ambitious but intellectually underserved addition to Mendoza’s SFF-represented body of work.     

Sunday
Jun032012

WHORE'S GLORY

Writer/Director: Michael Glawogger
Running time: 110 minutes

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Wed 6 Jun 8.15pm; Fri 8 Jun 8.30pm.

Rating: 3.5/5

 

Glimmers of humour and hope can’t quite hide the sad desperation and air of inevitability the subjects caught on camera exude in Austrian filmmaker’s Michael Glawogger’s Whore’s Glory. The director delves deep within the sordid lives of prostitutes, those that rule over them and those that partake of them in an expose made all the remarkable for the willingness of all involved to be captured on film.

Whore’s Glory is the third film in Glawogger’s series of documentaries loosely referred to as his ‘Globilization Trilogy’; it began with 1998s Megacities and was followed by 2005s Workingman’s Death. They are stark documents that explore the marginalization of the poor, the denial of their human needs as urbanization spreads and the exploitation of their weaknesses. Arguably, Whore’s Glory is the most arduous to endure, graphically portraying as it does the daily routine of cold sexual acts (sometimes as many as 40 men, cites one third-world working girl), the strong religious faith that helps many to survive the life and the self-medicating addictions that numb their pain.

Glawogger’s camera offers a truly immersive experience, that much is certain, but there is very little about his style that offers judgement. The lives he captures are what they are, existing within the trade for sexual favours in which men of all social standings indulge. The film roams from Thailand’s plush men’s club The Fish Tank, where johns choose their girl from a selection behind a glass wall; to ‘The City of Joy’ compound in Faridpur, Bangladesh where den mothers abuse their teenage charges if set men-quotas aren’t met; to the doorway whores of Mexico. It is on the dusty streets of this township where Glawogger’s film becomes most tragic; he is permitted access to the aging prostitute’s stark living conditions, withering mental state brought on by crack dependency and, finally, the actual process by which they make their living (sensitive viewers beware).

It will be revelatory to all but those who actually perpetuate the industry. It is hard to reconcile that such exploitation of women continues to exist, or that some women have become so desperate as to depend on it. The film’s most powerful moment is when a young Bangladesh worker paints a very clear image of what life is like for ‘working girls’ and of her clinging to a belief that all this will someday disappear for her. The hopelessness of her situation sometimes infests Glawogger’s film, making it all seem pointlessly depressing at times, but it is a powerful work nevertheless.      

Sunday
Jun032012

THE BRITISH GUIDE TO SHOWING OFF

Features: Andrew Logan, Ruby Wax, Zandra Rhodes, Brian Eno, Derek Jarman, Richard O’Brien and Grayson Perry.
Director: Jes Benstock
Running Time: 97 mins

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screening - Sat 9 Jun 7.00pm.

Rating: 3/5

A celebration of individualistic freedom by way of hedonism, Jess Benstock’s The British Guide to Showing Off is an affectionate profile of British avant-garde icon Andrew Logan and the landmark event he created in 1972, The Alternative Miss World Show.

Popping with an infectious joie de vivre that precisely captures the passion of the low-key but driven Logan, Benstock’s film utilises Python-esque animation, archival footage and personal interviews to paint a picture of the changing social and political landscape in which the underground gathering has existed all these years (a semi-annual event entirely dependent on philanthropic largesse, as Logan points out dejectedly at one point).

The retrospection is juxtaposed with preparations for the 2009 AMW Show, which was staged at The Roundhouse in London. The competition that comes in the wake of the drama of preparation is a sumptuous parade of gaudy excess and brash, funny personalities who laugh and bitch a lot. Benstock touches on the global importance of the event as a sub-culture celebration when he focuses in on a Nigerian entrant, who has survived abuse at the hand of African oppressors to attend the event in full regalia. It is an understated moment that subtly reinforces the importance of Logan’s bad-taste, anti-establishment agenda.

This raucous, at times coarse doco doesn’t have quite enough to say to sustain close to 100 minutes of screen time. The gay abandon of the OTT event is covered extensively, to the point where one begins to feel rather wallflower-ish, like being the only one at the party not taking drugs. Logan’s relationship with his partner and co-showrunner, Michael, is not as fully fleshed-out as it could have been, nor is the status of Logan within the current underground-art scene particularly explored (no reason is given for the nearly 4 year gap between much of the footage being shot and the films emergence).

But these relatively minor concerns can be shrugged off, as The British Guide to Showing Off is all about fearless self-expression and celebrating an eccentric personality of clear vision and determination. Much like Andrew Logan himself, it will NOT be everyone’s cup-of-tea, perhaps explaining the Sydney Film Festival’s decision to screen it free-of-charge for one session only in the midtown meeting-place venue, The Hub. Regardless, it is an undeniably vibrant experience.

Sunday
Jun032012

MARLEY

Featuring: Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Chris Blackwell, Cindy Breakespeare, Lee Perry, Danny Sims, Allan Cole, Rita Marley, Lee Jaffe and Constance Marley.
Director: Kevin McDonald
Running time : 145 minutes

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Mon 11 Jun 9.30pm; Sun 17 Jun 9.30pm.

Rating: 3/5

 

Taping into the details of another larger-than-life figure taken too early from this world, Kevin McDonald chills out considerably with Marley, his look at the life of the Rastafarian icon. As EP on the acclaimed documentary Senna, he held on for dear life as Asif Kapadia's vision hurtled forward, driven by the dynamic life and personality of its subject matter. Assuming the directorial reins here, his vast account of the music legends life ambles along with the laid-back vibe of a reggae king.

Clocking in at a sprawling, occasionally saggy 145 minutes, McDonald has masterfully collated archival footage and still photos to provide insight into a life that began in the mountain village of St Ann in the Jamaican hinterland, conquered the world of music, and ended sadly in the US. Unlike Senna, which was entirely comprised of found-footage, McDonald has peopled Marley with a great many friends, family and colleagues.

Some of the recounting runs the emotional gamut; Marley’s daughter Cedella remembering how she could not be alone with her father as he passed because of his followers is gruelling on her and the audience. But too many talking heads also serves to blur any strong defining portrait, casting a wide net over opinion ultimately strengthening his enigmatic legend rather who the man was when alive.

There is a valid concern that several persons interviewed are also the film’s producers, notably son Ziggy and ex-producer Chris Blackwell. There is a nagging sense that the film was never intended to be a tell-all but rather a thinly-veiled monument to the man; his estate still pulls in millions of dollars a year.

McDonald also fails to create any real drama in the telling of Marley’s life. Senna clashed with everybody and that film pulsed with conflict; Marley danced and sang with presidents, was shot at and bedded many women, but the film coasts past key events, seemingly content to reflect the musician’s ambivalence to the events of his life and how they impacted those around him.

Perhaps fittingly, the film becomes all about the music. Its inspired creation, passionate playing and global reach indicates his artistry and spirituality transcended his chosen sound, even his talent. Marley’s best moments come from it touching upon the essence of a man whose life-long commitment to optimism and faith resonated with millions.

Sunday
Jun032012

POSTCARDS FROM THE ZOO

Stars: Ladya Cheryl, Nicholas Saputra, Adjie Nur Ahmad and Klarysa Aurelia Raditya.
Writer: Edwin, Daud Sumolang and Titien Wattimena.
Director: Edwin
Running time: 96 mins.

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Sat 4 Aug, 11.00am; Sat 18 Aug, 9.00pm.

Rating: 3/5


Precisely the type of rarely-glimpsed international work that serious festival goers should seek out if only because it will never see the inside of an Australian cinema ever again, SFF patrons will be divided over Indonesian auteur Edwin’s sophomore effort, the often engaging yet head-scratchingly oblique Postcards from The Zoo.

The first half of the young filmmaker’s beautifully shot follow-up to his 2008 debut, Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly, is steeped in a dream-like, spiritual ethereality that proves to be somewhat overstated in the overall structure of Postcards from The Zoo but entrancing to watch nonetheless. The first 10 minutes of this challenging but haunting film consists of the innocent child-form of our heroine Lana (Klarysa Aurelia Raditya) wandering through woodlands calling for her father, before settling into the magical world that will soon become her home inside the animal park.

Growing into womanhood (played by the gentle and lovely Ladya Cheryl) wholly within the walled environment of the zoo, Lana becomes steeped in both the scientific and cultural significance of many of the animals, none more so than the majestic giraffe with whom she shares a profound connection. But when a charismatic cowboy-magician (Nicholas Saputra) sweeps her off her feet, she is transplanted into the dark and unpleasantly dirty world of Jakarta’s brothels, robbing the film of much of its essential charm and lyrical non-linear narrative momentum.

The first two-acts are almost entirely plot-free, instead relying upon man-animal interaction and interstitial cards with scientific facts about creature behaviour to engage the audience. But it is exactly the unencumbered pacing of glimpsed moments in the life of Lana and her zoo friends that are missed most as the story broadens. Crude language and happy-ending parlour pleasures, and a slimy street-thug caricature that is entirely out-of-place, takes Postcards from The Zoo into unwelcome, overly-familiar, not-very-interesting territory.

Much of this tawdry excess could have been trimmed and no impact would have been lost, helping with some pacing problems that make the entirely reasonable 96 minute running time seem significantly longer. It is not until the film relocates back to the animal park (all scenes were shot at the Ragunan Zoo in South Jakarta) and reverts to the gentle wanderings of Lana amongst her special animal friends does the film come to life again.

There is a temptation to apply theories as to greater meaning in a film such as Postcards From the Edge. Given Edwin’s stature as a Chinese director living in Indonesia, several analysts have mused over the film’s metaphorical underpinnings; is Lana’s cloistered existence and exploitation in the larger world synonymous with the plight of the enclaved Chinese population in the greater Muslim nation? Such thematic interpretations are open to debate but certainly add an element of understanding to the often bizarre scenarios Edwin stages.

Postcards from the Zoo works sufficiently well as a humanistic artwork, driven by a spiritual clarity and romantic hopefulness. Detractors of zoological park methodologies, who believe animals should not be caged, may not be swayed by some of the ‘happy animal’ scenes, but they play well into Edwin’s intent which, in the simplest terms, seems to be that home is where the heart is for all God’s creatures.