SFF 2010, Day 5: Boy + Just Like Us = An Uplifting Day!
Suffering a bad case of burn out I only caught two films on Sunday. Had three scheduled but sleep and writing took precedence. The two I did catch were fantastic though and they brewed a big second wind to take me into my final stretch. Here are some more sentences written in English for your convenience...
It is not hard to understand why Taika Waititi's sophomore film has just broken records at the New Zealand box office becoming the highest grossing local film of all time. It's an utterly charming film. A bit like a Wes Anderson film with soul crossed with local humour reminiscent of The Castle. Boy is a lot more original than my previous description gives it credit for though.
The film is deceptively simple. Boy is the name of our central character, the year is 1984 and he lives on the isolated east coast of New Zealand with his grandmother and siblings. His mother passed away during the birth of his little brother and his father is in prison. Boy's world changes when his father returns home suddenly one night while is grandmother is away. Waititi not only writes and directs but gives a pitch perfect performance as the wayward, emotionally stunted father.
The style and humour of Boy is blatantly quirky but rather than this feeling forced and artificial it comes across as remarkably effortless. Those familiar with Waititi's earlier film, Eagle Vs Shark, will have a good idea of what I am talking about but Boy is a grand step up from that. The aesthetic is so perfectly individual and realised whilst simultaneously being blatantly regional. This is an uncompromised New Zealand film. It could only have come from there and there are many little easter eggs peppered throughout appealing to New Zealand viewers. A couple of shots of a television playing 80s New Zealand shows got large laughs from the sizable New Zealand contingent in the audience.
The film also juxtaposes these very local details with a strong focus on 80s western pop culture. This combination of disparate elements shouldn't work but it does and it's one the of many remarkable things Waititi has pulled off with this film. There is even a short fantasy segment containing a West Side Story style fight that feels totally earned rather than quirkily superfluous.
Fantasy, animated scenes and a hilarious end credits sequence (that should not be spoilt if possible, the surprise was half the fun) are some of the many memorable moments in this charming, honest and crowd-pleasing film. It will get a general release here in Australia in a couple of months and I have no doubt that it will do amazing business.
JUST LIKE US
Today was a great day for light, hopeful films. Just Like Us is a top documentary that deserves as much support as it can get. The film follows Ahmed Ahmed, an Egyptian-American stand up comic, as he travels a show around the middle east. He performs with several other mixed race comedians in 4 different middle eastern cities, Riyadh, Dubai, Beirut and Cairo.
The first question that needs to be asked is whether they are actually funny as a significant portion of the film comprises of them performing. The answer is undoubtedly yes! They are a hilarious bunch and the performance footage is all the more interesting for the shots of different audiences enjoying the comedy. The central thesis of the film, that we are all the same, we all laugh at the same things, is well illustrated.
Ahmed's skills as a filmmaker are still in their infancy so one can forgive some of his indulgences. He begins the film with a series of vox-pops showing how few Americans on the street know the difference between Arabs and Musilms. This comes across as slightly redundant to a film festival audience who presumably already not only understand the difference but also are aware that Americans are ignorant to these issues. He also brings in a sub-plot at the end about an Egyptian immigrant in New York who is struggling after recently losing his job. This story feels a little contrived, almost as if Ahmed needed an extra narrative strand to hang his final argument on. But really these are minor nit-picky qualms that don't detract from the overall point of the piece which aims to humanise the Arab world.
The value in seeing that the Arab world consists of people 'just like us' is what is important in this film. As the audience watching the film laugh together with Arab audiences at the same jokes we feel a sense of sameness that is completely missing from dialogue in the western media at the moment. This is what is important about this film. When was the last time you saw an Arab laugh and have fun in the western media? This question is raised in the film as it wonders why Arabs are always shown as staunch, serious people. This creates an alien stereotype in the minds of western viewers. We find it hard to relate to them as people and begin to think of them as different from us. But they are not. While a film festival audience can probably be considered as preaching to the converted one can only hope this film gets some form of wider release in the future either on television or elsewhere so it can reach the audiences it needs to reach.
Directed Ahmed Ahmed was present for an entertaining Q&A after the film and he regaled us with some fascinating stories. Yes, he has been detained several times at American airports and questioned simply due to his descent. He also spoke of how difficult a time he has had getting his film into film festivals. It has been knocked back from a lot of festivals and one must wonder why. I feel there may be some highbrow reaction against what could seem like a simple comedy tour film. Just Like Us is much more than that though. It is funny, life-affirming and a joy to watch.
- Sitting in a sold out session at the state theatre with an enthusiastic audience is a great experience. Boy had such a large NZ turnout one wonders if the whole NZ population of Sydney was there.
- Academy Award winning short film, The New Tenants screened with Just Like Us and it is one of the best shorts I have seen in quite a while. Satisfying, complete and very funny; this was a fantastic film.
- Free Berocca drinks on every seat for the screening of Boy! SFF has got our back!