Sydney Film Festival 2012: Day 4

Day 4 of my Sydney Film Festival experience finally kicked things up into epic territory with HOLY MOTORS and KILLER JOE but let’s start at the beginning shall we.
My afternoon started with a competition film in the big Event 4 cinema: aka ‘where the subscribers live’. Weekday sessions in the subscriber cinema often feels like walking into someone else’s house and having them grumpily accept your presence. While I generally appreciate the subscribers’ commitment to the festival they tend to treat the cinema like a lounge room, wandering in and out of sessions at odd moments, spreading their stuff over several seats and eating weird meals at inopportune moments.
TODAY sets itself up with an intriguing premise. Satche wakes up one morning to his last day on earth. His family and the entire community seem magically aware that he is to die tomorrow and the film explores this fascinating idea very well… at least initially. One man’s meditative film is another man’s dull film and as TODAY progresses it begins to meander, offering up a series of episodic scenes that ultimately drag in uninteresting ways. The film is almost saved by a truly magical final act where Satche visits his estranged wife and children, spending his final moments in wordless contemplation. It’s a sensational achievement but not enough to salvage a severely flat middle act.
Hype is an interesting thing. After MIFF’s closing night screening of DRIVE last year, many in the critical community raved for months about the film and by the time its general release rolled around expectations were massive. HOLY MOTORS is about to suffer the same fate and I can only urge those have to wait 2 months to see it to temper their expectations, not because it isn’t a great film (it is) but no film can ever live up to such floods of extreme hyperbole.
I hate to join the chorus and add to the excessive hive mind of adulation but HOLY MOTORS is truly amazing and when a film is this genuinely exciting it is understandable to hear people loudly proclaim its greatness. The best advice I can offer you is to put your blinkers on, read minimal amounts of coverage and simply see the film as soon as you get the chance. Avoid any review that discloses plot details. The joy is in the discovery and that joy can easily be dispelled by those lazy critics who simply list the episodic plot points.
I feel I was very careful in only really describing the opening moments of the film in my review, soon to be published on Quickflix. Of course I also go on to write,
“Holy Motors is a visionary film, absurd, melancholy, ecstatic, confounding and ultimately transcendent. If 2012 spawns a better film I will eat a bouquet of flowers.”
Ignore what I think though, it’s only my opinion. Film is an intimate and supremely subjective experience. What happens in the two hours between you and HOLY MOTORS is something that no one else’s opinion should be able to colour. I’m not going to be disingenuous and soft peddle my own feelings to ease your expectations but I will say that what I think means nothing to anyone but me. Who cares that I love this film? I probably hate your favorite film, does that make you like that film any less? I certainly hope not.
So for the next two months when you hear me and others go on about how wonderful a film this is I hope you can forgive and ignore us. We are just excited and inspired by a film that is genuinely different from anything else out there. Do remember, it’s only a few people’s subjective opinions and when you finally see it - the lights go down and the film begins - it’s just you and the screen. Don’t expect, don’t assume, don’t predict. Just let it happen and see how it gels for you.
How could any film really follow HOLY MOTORS? Well, running to the cinema next door I would soon find out that KILLER JOE was the best possible chaser to Leos Carax’s epic. William Freidkin’s dirty little exploitation film was a ball of nasty fun. Playing like a cross between a 70s grindhouse pic with an early 90s neo-noir plot, KILLER JOE revels in its trailer-park trash atmosphere despite being not nearly as obscene or offensive as we had been led to expect.
Matthew McConaughey is remarkable as the titular Joe, a cop who moonlights as a contract killer. When a family hires him to kill someone for insurance money things don’t exactly go according to plan and Joe isn’t someone you want to owe money to. Nudity, guns, and bad language abound as KILLER JOE propels itself towards an amazingly perfect denouement. The end is sharp but spot-on and left a mighty wide grin on my face. This is sick, perverted fun and from one sick pervert to another, I highly recommend you see this.