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Sunday, 10 June 2018

Sydney Film Festival (10) - Two debut Australian features WEST OF SUNSHINE (Jason Raftopoulos, 2017) and THE SECOND (Mairi Cameron, 2018)

Should you be mean to first time directors who get their film past the incredibly high standards of Sydney Film Festival selection. Last year it hardly entered the head. Ali’s Wedding and That’s Not Me, made assured entrances. 

My friend Bill Mousoulis has been pondering some related issues here. His film Songs of the Revolution  hasn’t been accepted by the Festivals here and he has resorted to what he calls DIY distribution in order to get his film out to a public. In a Facebook post I blurted out something connected to Bill’s predicament when I commented “I scroll down Facebook and in one evening I see mention of new films by Bill, Matthew Victor Pastor, David King and Saidin Salkic. There must be something better for all this randomness. A Salon des Refusés event of some kind, somewhere.” 

Of course, all such randomness and atomization is one of the by-products, at least, of the demise of the Film-maker Co-ops, long gone for many reasons including the fact they lost the miniscule government support that sustained them.

I’m focused on this because two films in a row at the SFF produced serious discomfort. They are on the SFF screen, for three screenings in the case of the first to be mentioned and two for the other, no less.

Jason Raftopoulos
Jason Raftopoulos’s West of Sunshine (Australia, 2017) is set, as far as I could see, mostly east of Sunshine in the inner bayside suburbs of Melbourne. A problem gambler (Damian Hill) has to rustle up $15,000 by the end of the day to pay off a debt to his former boss and friend. The program notes describe the boss as a ‘loan shark’ which seems a bit rich. He only wants his money back and is not into any pay or die threats. The poor dumb mug punter who has borrowed it seems to acknowledge the debt without any editorials about the lender’s character. 

The dumb bastard’s agony is compounded when he is required to look after his son for the day. A minor problem. The dumb guy has a certainty at the Ballarat races and enough in the kitty to make a bet that (Spoiler Alert) pays off. But...of course he loses it all again... Still…we’re in sunnier suburban territory, nowhere near the nastiness of one of Miike Takashi’s early masterworks Rainy Dog where a hitman has a kid he doesn’t know is his dumped on him and he has to take the kid along when he does his contract killings. That produced genuine atmosphere as the killer tracked his way though the back blocks of Taiwan. 

Damian Hill, West of Sunshine
But this one is sunny, bland. You just know the father and the kid will bond. You also know, because it’s set up so that we know (Spoiler Alert), that eventually the dumb bastard father will clear the debt by selling his car. You expect he will not get off completely unscathed which means he probably takes a beating. Not too rough. Certainly not the kind of beating Miike could hand out. 

It’s that kind of movie, only occasionally affecting. And boy, does it have a lot of random shots out of travelling cars… The crowd had sniffed it out, notwithstanding its pedigree of a Venice world premiere, and only half filled the bottom two levels of the State. A cheer squad whooped and hollered…

Mairi Cameron
There was also a cheer squad for the even less enthralling The Second (Mairi Cameron, Australian, 2018), described in the catalogue as ‘a steamy pyscho-thriller’ and, in case you missed the point, ‘a sexy thriller’ with ‘a frisky libido’, whatever that latter might mean. 

Regrettably it’s none of those things and it plods its way through a sub-Nicholas Roeg set of machinations of a writer, her publisher with whom she has taken off for a week away in her grand Victorian residence in the Queensland bush. She's supposed to be starting her new book to follow up her incredibly successful first tome.  Then an old friend invites herself to the party, or better still makes it a party.  It’s about what might or might not have happened decades ago when some adolescent by-play went bad and how its being reported in her new book and whether the police should have an interest and whether all is what it seems. So, multiple viewpoints, the odd bit of the most perfunctory sex ever offered in a ‘sexy thriller’ and maybe a murder and maybe a suicide or maybe it’s just what’s in the incredibly successful writer’s incredibly brilliant second book.

It will go out on Stan and I guess a lot more people will check it out there. In the meantime, Bill Mousoulis, Matthew Victor Pastor et al may only lament that five sessions at the SFF were taken by such mediocre work, one with a pedigree from Venice, the other with ‘stars’ made for cable TV.
Rachel Blake, Susie Porter, The Second

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