Far from the harsh arctic aesthetic of recent crossover Swedish titles like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Let the Right One In, this droll piece of work by Patrik Eklund uses a honey-glazed colour palate that suits its tale of electric hijinks to a tee. Flicker appears to be a rather unassuming, if perhaps overly quaint and quirky, comedy that recalls the recent work of French director Dany Boon (Nothing to Declare), but it quickly becomes something much more accessable. A rather deliciously kooky plot sets forth a series of gags, spoofs and blunders that have a higher joke-to-laugh ratio than any American comedy since Bridesmaids. If the laughs aren’t as gut-busting then they’re certainly more consistent as Eklund, who also wrote the screenplay, navigates the lives of these weirdly confident small town folk who have more pride than The Lion King over recent upgrades to the telecommunications grid with the imminent launch of 4G internet coverage. Simple things, as the saying goes…
Sure, it doesn’t sound like much, but it does so much right with the material that the finished product is greater than the sum of its parts. An exquisite feather touch makes easy work of the 100-minute runtime (the maximum length of any comedy, surely) and never misses a beat in its escalating madcap absurdist comedy. If it occasionally drifts off into its own world a little too much – a blind date sequence is particularly superfluous – then that’s easily forgiven when the mechanics of the plot bring together its chain of events to such a giggly conclusion. I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of activists fighting against society’s reliance on electricity. Wonderfully keen work, there.
Flicker will presumably work a treat during the dregs of the festival when a good laugh is most definitely in order. Fabulously acted, too, this is a wholly charming film with an electric energy that’s infectious. Oscar nominee (Best Live Action Short, Instead of Abracadabra) Eklund’s feature debut is a welcome surprise.
Flicker screens Sat 4 Aug (1.30pm), and Sun 5 Aug (9.00pm).
Patrik Eklund is a guest of the festival.
Affluent Swedish fifty-somethings acting in the most unpleasant manner are the backbone of Axel Petersén’s stifling, suffocating bore. I was left as unengaged by it as its characters are unengaged with anything resembling an admirable human traits. Avalon – so named after the classic Roxy Music track (featured on the soundtrack!) – is a mercifully brief excursion into the (low) lives of the Swedish Hamptons set. Frustratingly impenetrable thanks to its inert storytelling and hurried tonal shifts; Avalon’s floundering narrative eventually proves too aloof to care about. A soundtrack of Swedish house music was literally the only thing keeping me awake by film’s end.
Johannes Brost stars as Janne, a former ‘80s rock star whose recent stay in prison has brought about a new lifestyle and is opening an exclusive nightclub for equally VIP Swedes who have nothing better to do with their vacation downtime than snort cocaine and drink straight vodka out of test tubes. Initially the film does a good job of opening up this world to the audience, beginning with a title card written in dusky ‘80s pink typeface and a lead actor whose weathered face certainly shows the telltale signs of a hard-lived existence. Sadly, Petersén’s unfocused screenplay flutters about between drama, comedy and even thriller with none of these ingredients sticking.
Avalon reminded me of recent Australian film, Wish You Were Here, which seemed a couple of rewrites away from unleashing the multiplex-baiting genre piece that was waiting to get out. As the final act veers off once again into confounding territory pulled out of thin air, the boat has long since sailed on this disappointing effort. When “the gardens looks nice” and “at least it’s short” are the best one can come up with then you know something’s gone terrible awry.
Avalon screens Sat 4 Aug (9.00pm), and Sun 5 Aug (4.00pm).
Director Axel Petersén will be a guest of the festival.
Speaking of unpleasant…
Oren Moverman curiously couldn’t get a theatrical release for his debut feature, The Messenger. I haven’t seen it, but it’s rapturous critical reception and twin Academy Award nominations suggest that it’s something special. It’s surely better than Moverman’s sophomore effort, a title that will be going direct-to-DVD in September. Rampart – so named after the Rampart Division of the LAPD – is a cop drama in the vein of Bad Lieutenant, except in this case the bad cop that is front and centre truly thinks he’s doing good.
There’s a moment hidden late in the proceedings where an LAPD paper-pusher (Sigourney Weaver, Avatar) asks Officer David “Date Rape” Brown (Woody Harrelson, The Hunger Games) “can we not go to Vietnam today” when giving yet another long-winded excuse for his abominable actions. Therein lies the crux of Rampart; a man who has been so damaged by war and personal conflicts (his ex-wives are sisters!), but forgotten by a system that no longer finds his hard-line tactics acceptable. As the unfortunately nicknamed cop, Harrelson is pretty good, although the real acting highlights are hidden amongst the female ensemble. I particularly enjoyed Weaver, Robin Wright (The Conspirator), Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) and Brie Larson (21 Jump Street), although Audra McDonald (Private Practice) and Anne Heche (Birth) have their moments too.
What makes Rampart such a dire viewing experience, however, is the miserabilism that Moverman and co-writer James Ellroy (LA Confidential) lay on thick with a trowel. Yes, Officer Brown is meant to be a disgusting pig of a man, but that doesn’t make watching him has to be a chore. Scene after scene demonstrating how awful he is (how about that post-coital bedroom scene, acted so well by McDonald) play out with little to no relevance to the ongoing narrative and aren’t done in any particularly nuanced way as to help form more than a one dimensional perception of this character.
The cinematography by Bobby Bukowski is a constant delight, reflecting the harsh Los Angeles light onto a cruel city as the nighttime sequences echo the muggy, dense smog look of Collateral. The choice of locations, whether it be a local flamenco club, the wire-fenced territory made famous by hip-hop, or the sweltering pavements of the sunny LA hills, are spot on but only offer a temporary distraction from the onslaught of desolate, depressing thematic imagery.
Rampart screens Mon 6 Aug (9.00pm), Mon 13 Aug (6.30pm),
and Thu 16 Aug (1.30pm)
From the director of local cult doco Beyond Our Ken, Luke Walker, comes Lasseter’s Bones. I was a big fan of Walker’s debut and was eager to catch his latest. Suffering from a somewhat modest aesthetic, Lasseter’s Bones feels a bit too much like a made-for-television documentary, albeit one that still has the power to surprise and will definitely be of interest to those with an interest in its niche colonial true life tale. The gold rush days are admittedly far from my forte, and I’m not particularly taken by the romance that some people put on the olden times so I was probably at a disadvantage from the opening credits.
I’m also not normally a fan of documentary directors inserting themselves in the action. It tends to leave a bad taste in my mouth and I usually find it a lazy way to pad out a runtime with what is frequently unnecessary jibber-jabber that could have been communicated in more visual ways. Given the type of film Walker has made his appearance is far less jarring – and he’s a very good looking man so, er, there is that – but his narration could use a bit of punching up to enliven the proceedings.
The hunt for Lewis Harold Bell, Lasseter’s mysterious gold of myth and legend, throws up some wonderful historical curveballs (one in particularly involving Lasseter and the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was eye opening), as well as some particularly fascinating insights into local Aboriginal culture. The use of old footage and photography is a thankful addition and help make Lasseter’s Bones a rewarding viewing experience for those initially interested in the topic or not. It’s just a shame that a rather ho-hum visual style stops it from reaching a more cinematic level.