Monday 22 August 2016

AFI Screenings 2016 - GIRL ASLEEP (inc post script from Eddie Cockrell)

Ok, let's put something to rest. The first shot of this movie, a long single medium shot of two kids on a school bench with much activity around them in the background, and with some interruptions on their plane, is as strikingly similar to the way Wes Anderson sets up his scenes that you just go "duh".  If you want an extended explanation of how Anderson does it you should visit David Bordwell's blog entry when Moonrise Kingdom was released This trope continues on for much of the film, though as it progresses towards the very end some scenes are filmed in  more conventional cross-cutting involving three quarter face diagonals. Why the formal front on was abandoned may have been asked at the Q&A at the Bondi Junction AFI screening but I wasn't there for it. Sooner or later the truth will out.

Girl Asleep, a first feature by theatre director Rosemary Myers, was financed in part by and premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival. That premiere took place in October last year. The film was screened at the Sydney Film Festival where it got programmed into a section headed Family Films and was I submit both wrongly categorized and hence, somewhat un-noticed. This month it was at the Melbourne Film Festival, where it  got good session times and won a cash prize for best Australian feature awarded by The Age film critics. It opens in cinemas on September 8.

But you can understand why all this has taken a little time. This is a film that starts out as one thing - Wes Anderson whimsy using the 70s to give the film a satiric edge by allowing the characters to be dressed in what are just slightly satirical versions of what was worn at the time. There's also a bit more subtle stuff about what was done at the time, most notably a very funny family dinner where Chinese is served, including prawn crackers and only two of those present use chopsticks. Then there's a fabulous party sequence where the guests arrive in dance mode and the film gets out the look and feel of a suburban Saturday Night Fever. Toe tapping fun at that moment.

Then the film dives into some other space and summons up costumed animals and doubled characters of Mum and Dad from inside the family home, who live in a fantasy wood at the back of the house. It detours into variations on Alice in Wonderland. Hmmm. With some contrivance it all rocks back to normal though not before the heroine, the 'Girl Asleep' goes through a poorly choreographed dream/fight scene where she takes down the three bitches who have been terrorising her at school. Wes Anderson would not have dreamed of allowing that bit of rough and tumble, at least not like that.

Elsewhere there are nice touches - the droll signs that appear on walls, the youthful vitality of the two young leading players (Bethany Whitmore and Harrison Feldman) who handle some long single shot sequences with some quite complicated dialogue to negotiate and do it with with considerable aplomb. The director would have had to work hard to get that done as well as it has been done. But its not quite funny frequently enough even over the very slim 77 minutes. Still, wondering about such whimsy opposed to the foul language grit of Down Under,  its interesting to ponder a little about comic derivations in our local product. Gentility versus aggro. Adelaide versus Sydney. Hard to know.

Editor's note. Since I posted this note Eddie Cockrell, who reviewed the film for Variety around the time that it played the 2016 Berlinale program, has sent in A link to his Variety review. One sentence caught my eye.

“If all this sounds like an unholy blending of Napoleon Dynamite and Where the Wild Things Are by way of Wes Anderson, nothing could be further from the truth.” 

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