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Our Law

Australian, Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, Streaming, Sydney Film Festival, This Week Leave a Comment

Cornel Ozies started his extensive career as a video editor at his local TV station ‘Goolarri’ in Broome Western Australia; he went on to win awards for films including Jarlmadangah Dreams and Bollywood DreamingOur Law is his latest offering, produced and filmed on location in WA.

Set in Warakurna – a town located 330 kilometres west of Uluru at the base of the majestic yet oddly named ‘Rawlinson Ranges’. Brevet Senior Sergeant’s Revis Ryder and Wendy Kelly are the local cops presiding over the only police station run entirely by indigenous officers in Western Australia. Their main barrier to effective communication with the local community is the fact that many residents only speak the local dialect Ngaanyatjarra. They’ve realised that language builds rapport and are doing their best, with help from the locals to get a grip on it. It’s a difficult task; Papa means dog for example, not grandpa.

In contrast to most communities, the cops in Warakurna are beloved by the locals, policing by getting to know the community and talking through problems, building mutual respect.

Ryder coaches the footy team and Kelly works with the local women making bush medicines. It’s a sad day for the community when Sergeant Kelly leaves to take up a position 1100km’s away in Kalgoorlie, she’s off to work on a police reconciliation action plan and to train WA police in building relationships with aboriginal communities. Watching the nightly news, perhaps she could follow this up by training police officers in the USA as well?

Cinematographer Sam Bhodi Field beautifully captures the magnificent landscapes of outback Western Australia.

Our Law could be a blueprint for future policing techniques in Australia.

Audiences can watch Our Law on NITV on Karla Grant Presents on Monday 22 June at 8.30pm or purchase tickets to a sneak peek virtual screening at Sydney Film Festival, running online from 10 – 21 June 2020.

 
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High Resolution

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When Tao Lin released his novel Taipei, it was to much acclaim (in certain circles) and he was lauded as a bold, new creative voice in literature. Though many critics dismissed him as a product of a younger, more vacuous generation with nothing on its mind except nothingness, he was largely regarded as a self-promoter, ever-present on a litany of social media platforms, cultivating most of his writing by recording and re-examining his own life experiences and filtering them through a dissociative, ironic gaze which in turn would give birth to a style of writing not dissimilar from the endless and overly detailed monologues deployed in American Psycho by author Bret Easton Ellis. It’s worth noting that Tao Lin’s own physical voice tones are themselves droll and monotone. It’s at this point that Jason Lester (son of Commando director Mark L. Lester!!) adapts Taipei, significantly reworking the material but keeping the central characters and core plot and themes.

The film begins with Erin (Ellie Bamber), having just ended a relationship, wandering into a book signing by author Paul Chen (Justin Chon), of whom she is a huge fan. Erin meets Paul, in something of a ‘meet-cute’ and soon the pair are swept up in a self-introspective whirlwind of circular conversations about relationships, life and existence. The pair take drugs, A LOT of drugs, in fact Paul’s imbibing of everything from Ecstasy to Xanax, to Adderall and cocaine becomes so ubiquitous it ceases to hold any sense of reality.

Paul decides that they should document their relationship on his laptop using the webcam, recording their waking moments and their descent into drug-addled self-obsession. Erin plays along, literally, with the pair becoming locked in a strange performance art-piece of a sort, playing the roles of star-crossed lovers in a self-aware, hyper-conscious artwork that exists only on Paul’s laptop. Drugs fuel their adventures, which they record, which then inspire them to take more drugs to fuel continuing hijinks and deliberate, pointed bad decision-making. Though it’s when Paul decides to take Erin to Taipei to meet his parents that things start to unravel.

Jason Lester has given himself a difficult task in taking on Taipei as a film adaptation. The book’s stream-of-consciousness first person perspective is not something that is ripe for a drug-infused Before Sunrise style walk-and-talk with dreamy music and visuals. Lester’s cinematic ambitions are decidedly European, though not consistent, he manages to cultivate a dreamlike atmosphere at times, ably assisted by composer David Harrington and Cinematographer Daniel Katz.

Visuals aside, there’s an infuriating emotionless void at the centre of the story. As Erin, Ellie Bamber feels galactically miscast, her performance (though solid and well-performed) just doesn’t engage; there’s an emotional disconnect as if her performance is viewed through binoculars. As Paul (an avatar for Tao Lin himself, in the book as well as in this film), Justin Chon delivers an impersonation of Tao Lin, which, as mentioned earlier, means he has a strangely monotone, droll voice. For the unaware viewer, this translates as a stilted and oddly bizarre performance choice. This isn’t helped by the script which translates the stream-of-consciousness prose from the book into a two-hander featuring characters who behave counter-intuitively, feel deeply unrelatable and are prone to delivering ‘word salad’ non-sequiturs of ripe, over-written dialogue.

Ultimately, it’s the inscrutable characters that frustrate any attempt at viewer empathy or even interest. We don’t need to ‘like’ a character, we simply need to understand them in order to engage with the story. Such ironic distance may be intentional, even laudable for some, but it nevertheless makes for an empty, vacuous experience, even if vacuity is the point.

 
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Sorry For Your Loss

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Debut Canadian writer/director Colin Friesen made his short film debut in 2003 with a piece entitled Farm Sluts. His second short, Feather Weights, was about a man trying to kick-start a women’s pillow fighting league. Not surprisingly, Friesen’s first feature, Sorry For Your Loss, is not a middle of the road exercise in political correctness and Hollywood-friendly gags. It is, however, very, very funny, and will make you wince with should-I-be-giggling-at-this laughter every few minutes. The script zings and pings relentlessly, and the cast of talented not-quite-stars rise to the occasion with aplomb, executing the jokes with perfectly timed skill and an endearing lack of vanity.

Ken Wall (The Hangover’s Justin Bartha) is in the throes of a job that he hates, financial difficulties, an edgy relationship, and early fatherhood. Though questioning his levels of parental involvement, his wife Lori (Inbar Lavi) encourages the reluctant Ken to attend the funeral of his distant, errant father. Upon his arrival, Ken quickly learns that his father was not only scuzzier and more unpleasant than he initially thought, but that he has also left an odd condition in his will: if Ken can sprinkle his ashes in the middle of the enormous playing field of his favourite sports team within two days, he’ll get $200,000. If he can’t do it, the money will instead go to constructing a sauna at his father’s beloved golf club. Thus begins an unlikely, bumpy, and not exactly hectically paced race against time to make it happen.

It might sound like an obvious, gimmicky comedy about a troubled father-son relationship that is posthumously redeemed (and there is a little bit of that), but Colin Friesen gleefully subverts those expectations at every turn. Ken’s awful father gets shadier with each new revelation, while Ken’s own attitude to parenthood is alarmingly indifferent. The intelligent and tonally spot-on script, however, never allows the characters to become unlikeable. They are messy, morally uncertain and often foul-mouthed, but they’re bitingly real and blackly funny.

All of the performances are excellent (Bartha and Lavi have a genuinely spiky, wholly believable young-husband-and-wife chemistry, while Lolita Davidovich is great fun as Ken’s sexy mum), but the true standout is veteran support player Bruce Greenwood, who is deeply, profoundly, infectiously hilarious as the effortlessly sleazy, horribly inappropriate, and equally charming Jeff Steadman, the stripper-loving best pal of Ken’s late dad. Though he undeniably scores all of the film’s best jokes and most ripping dialogue, the under-celebrated star of Thirteen Days and The Sweet Hereafter delivers it all with a rarely glimpsed, laugh-grabbing flair that would put most of the world’s top comics to shame. It’s a truly masterful performance, and locks right in with the pithy, inventive and bravely politically incorrect comedy of Sorry For Your Loss.

 
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Descent

Australian, Documentary, Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Dutch Kiki Bosch sits in her car, shivering, her skin blue. Eyes closed; she calmly explains to the documentary crew that despite appearances, she is fine. The cold blood at her extremities is mixing with the warm blood in her core, bringing its temperature down and leading to her current situation. Again, she assures everyone that she is fine. There’s potentially good reason to feel concerned though. Before being in the vehicle, Kiki Bosch has just spent an extraordinarily long-time swimming in some of the coldest water in the world, wearing nothing but a regular bathing costume. For some, the contemplation of taking a cold bath is torture. However, for Bosch, freediving into icy depths is not just a career, it’s part of a continuous journey into expanding her mindset.

Directed by underwater cameraman, Nays Baghai, Descent allows Bosch to sit down and tell her story. Starting off as a psychology student, she discovered the joys of freediving, and she was soon taking tour groups around Thailand. Sadly, she was raped by a colleague who would go on to do the same to someone else. This, unsurprisingly, led to a downward spiral for the freediver. Feeling guilty for not reporting her rapist and blaming herself for the assault, Bosch goes on to associate her freediving hobby with what she went through.

Descent captures Bosch casting off the oppression of being a victim and being reborn as an ice free diver. For Bosch, plunging into cold water helps her focus. Those familiar with the practice of mindfulness will recognise a strain of this in her swimming. Jolted by the cold, she remains acutely aware of where she is at that given moment, not the future and certainly not the past.

Bosch’s lo-fi narration accentuates the gorgeous scenes of clear blue seas and lakes. As the audience, we’re introduced to a whole new way of seeing the world. And just in case we’re too swept away in its majesty, Descent reminds us how dangerous it can be by telling us about Bosch nearly dying of hyperthermia while shooting a short film.

The key theme for Descent is ‘uplifting’, so we’re never allowed to ponder too long on what propels someone to test their body to this extent. Even when Bosch admits that doctors have told her she could lose her sight, Descent never asks us to question her methods.

Is that a bad thing? No, not necessarily. However, it does have the potential to paint an unrealistic picture of trauma/depression treatment. Just going for a run doesn’t automatically cure your anxiety, for example. For Bosch, freediving has allowed her to expand her mindset and reset her thinking. And then in the last minutes, we’re introduced to her new career as a Wim Hof method instructor, and the documentary essentially turns into a paid advert for the practice; the camera lingers on PowerPoints and graphics in her lectures, souring the au natural feeling of the overall documentary.

Is that a cynical note to take away from the whole thing? Perhaps. However, it doesn’t distract too much from Baghai’s direction and camerawork. Seriously, it needs to be seen at the highest definition. Bosch’s story, too, is one of reclamation and rebuilding. She was dealt a miserable hand, and she managed to rise above it. Given the current state of affairs, you can’t begrudge anybody for trying to find their place in the world and successfully doing so. More power to her and others like her.