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Click here to read my review of opening night film NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #1: THE SAGA BEGINS...


Walking doesn't really feel like walking in Melbourne. You don't really feel like you're traversing any great distance when you walk the city, because your destination doesn't seem like two, three kilometres off; it seems like one store off, one block off. You find yourself briskly window shopping stores you would never otherwise go into, simply because that's what you do when you're in Melbourne.

Thanks to a musical about the Wicked Witches of Oz taking up the Regent (seats aren't brilliant, but the location is so grandiose!), MIFF has been forced to find a new venue this year. Gone is the massive stage and huge columns and marble staircase, replaced with an extra cinema at the already-stretched-to-capacity Greater Union and, somewhat surprisingly, the Kino-Dendy.

I like the Kino. They have quite a few press screenings there, and for a venue in the middle of the city, it's surprisingly easy to get to regardless of whether you're using public transport, your car, or your feet. The reason I'm surprised at the Kino's inclusion this year is that this new venue stretched the outskirts of MIFF by an extra block-and-a-half, like a fraught electoral map being accosted by a lascivious gerrymanderer. (Take that, English language!)

Suddenly, our cosy little MIFF square -- where you could almost view any venue from any other venue -- was being pushed further out. Suddenly, transportation becomes an issue. This is not to say that we mind the extra five minutes of walking... as I said earlier, walking in Melbourne isn't walking. It's that extra five minutes that wedges between your sessions, and determines where your place in the queue is, or even if you make it to the next session at all...


After my day of five consecutive films, I found myself on path that was not burning out, but hungry for more. And not just for clumsily mixed metaphors, either. No, I wanted more movies. I'd booked so many that I couldn't quite remember what many of them were. CELEBRITY was one I'd booked for, but had no idea what it was. So then the title comes up, and I'm thinking "Oh, Dominick Dunne, of course". The name was familiar, but I couldn't place him, figuring I would when the film got going. Nope. I have absolutely no memory of hearing about him before this film, nor do I have any idea what compelled me to buy a ticket. Either way, I'm glad I did. It's an Australian documentary about, as I said, Dominick Dunne, a writer whose history is far too complex to go into here. It's a fascinating character study, and does a good job at showing you every angle of each fairly complex and controversial issue that arises. Some parts of it did rub me the wrong way -- the editing, for instance, seems like it's trying to make most of its subjects look silly -- but on the whole this was a great doco that really won the crowd over. It's f ramed by Dunne's coverage of the Phil Spector trial, which couldn't be more apt given the history of Dunne himself. The parallels between the two are thankfully not overdone, and we quickly move away from Spector's trial and into who Dunne is. Destined for a wider post-festival release, and certain to find its audience.


Walking briskly from the Kino, I realised I'd actually moved it further away from the city centre than it actually was. I made it to the Greater Union with time to spare, and entered one of their more non-sound-proof, slowly-dilapidating theatres. The lights then went down, and I soon realised that the lessons I'd learned in Francois Ozon's tediously unimportant 5X2 had been all-too-quickly forgotten. See, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY had convinced me that ponderous French dramas could, indeed, be great; my error was not remembering that such greatness was a very rare thing. PRIVATE LESSONS is, as far as I could make out, about a teenager struggling with school and with love. He is staying with family friends (though exactly who any of these people are in relation to him is never made clear), and they begin to educate him in the academic and the sexual. The film gets off to a start similar to, ironically enough, a virgin who doesn't want to bother with any of the foreplay. It's the second scene in, and we're discussing sex and girls and what to do and when to do it. "Oh," thinks I, "I suppose the character stuff will come later." It doesn't. When the film ended, I still didn't know who any of these people were supposed to be, or why this kid was staying with them. Maybe it didn't matter. What did matter was what he goes through. T his is where we get into tricky territory. There was a definite moral ambiguity at play here, and I couldn't quite judge it without knowing the authorial intent. Films are judged largely on what the filmmakers originally intended to do. This isn't a bad thing; in fact, it's essential. It's how we can tell that TOY STORY and APOCALYPSE NOW are both five star films, even though they hardly exist in the same universe. Here, with PRIVATE LESSONS, I realised that I wouldn't know the director's intent until the closing moments, where these adults would either be condemned or celebrated for what they'd done. What they do to this kid is essentially destroy and take advantage of him as they "educate" him in the ways of sex. These people all seemed like horrible, nasty, selfish idiots from the very beginning to me, but as the film goes on, it became apparent that they were only supposed to look like this at the end, as if this was a surprising revelation. I think we were supposed to sympathise with them at first, appreciate their efforts, wish we'd had carers like this during our formative years. Their transition into horribleness is meant to be unexpected. It's meant to be a transition. Of course, I'm speculating, but I don't have a lot to go on. A fairly unlikable film with nothing really to recommend. Oh, except for one or two of the performances, particularly the teenager, newcomer (so to speak) Jonas Bloquet.


My next day at MIFF seemed to resemble the one above: a doco/bio at the Kino, and on its heels, a narrative feature at the Greater Union. My hopes that the distaste of PRIVATE LESSONS would be washed away by something de cent were quickly obliterated. WORDS OF WISDOM isn't so much a look at the life of William S Burroughs as much as it is a hastily-edited mash of people talking about him. This is truly the shoddiest doco I've ever seen, and I suspect that nobody at MIFF actually watched this film before they programmed it. Burroughs's name is enough to get people into the cinema, and it's certainly what snafued me into booking it. The film makes no attempt to tell any interesting anecdotes from his life, nor does it tell the story of his life, nor does it tell the story of a portion of his life, nor does it illustrate in any way who he was. The filmmakers clearly managed to get interviews with a handful of people who knew him (though how well any of them knew him is never made clear), plus some academics who spend their time speculating and postulating. Given this film is 75 minutes long, I'm also surprised there was so much filler. This is an embarrassment of a film that you wouldn't stop on if you were channel surfing. There's more to say about exactly why it's a disaster, but I'm done thinking about it. Avoid.


Yes, it's the 1990s done period, with Ben Kingsley as a dope-smoking psychiatrist. And you need further incentive to see this, why? This is a great film; genuinely funny, dramatic without being cloying, with a defining performance by Josh Peck, who now has my permission to be in everything. Though the film does slip into the self-consciously annoying tendency of comedic period films by featuring far too many forced 90s references (not quite hitting WEDDING SINGER levels, but still dancing dangerously close to the red), the film is hard to fault, and hard not to love. No more shall be said, other than this is one you must not miss.

And that's round two. Stay tuned for round three in the next day or so; it features an angry Klaus Kinski, a lemon tree diving Jews from Palestinians, and one of the best documentaries I've ever seen.

Peace out,


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