by Xavier Toby in New Film on Wednesday 18 June 2008

Film Festivals are the antidote to mainstream cinema. Gone are the predictable plotlines, thirty minutes of previews and superstar actors. Instead, there is real variety and undiscovered talent throughout the categories that include the official competition, world cinema, Australian films, documentaries, shorts and others. Inspiring, insightful and confronting, these films attack many contemporary issues head-on. While some of the features can be somewhat questionable in quality or indecipherable, the Sydney International Film Festival, which runs until June 22, features films that each push some boundary or are in some way revolutionary. Here are some highlights so far.
Choke
Based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk who also wrote ‘Fight Club’, this is a hilarious, confronting and very strange feature. The truly bizarre situations and characters invented by Palahniuk are engrossing to the end. The black humour involves some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen, but it does wane in places. The acting is superb, especially from Sam Rockwell as the lead and Anjelica Huston as his mother. Some key elements of the book are glossed over, but that often happens due to the constraints of film. Really there is not too much more that can be said about a picture which features a sex-addict who fakes choking in restaurants to benefit from the generosity of the wealthy middle class, in order to support his mother who has ended up in a hospice for the insane.

Andalucia
More like a song or a poem than a film for its whimsical beauty, this French offering follows Yacine through Paris as he bounds through life, stopping to appreciate whatever grabs his attention. The brilliant cinematography displays what he has become enraptured with in such beauty that it is easy to fall under the same spell. The intense visual tone is set by a gripping beginning that has Yacine working with children and everyone covered in paint. The film is dominated by a nervous energy that has Yacine bouncing around between situations and characters, pausing to experience them then quickly moving on. He visits family, runs into old friends, parties with a hip-hop star and ends up in a period film. It is a wonderful portrait of a vibrant character struggling to make sense of the world.

Reel Shorts
A collection of short films under forty minutes from around the world of varying subject matter and tone, that will sadly be seldom seen since alone they are too short for television or a feature film. The highlight was ‘Kids + Money’ from America, documenting how important fashion and money are to identities. The skewed views of these Californian teenagers were both scary and hilarious. ’52 Percent’ from Poland was a brutal look at the punishing physical regime a young girl puts herself through to length her legs by 0.4 percent in order to be accepted into a ballet school, while ‘Water Boy’ from Myanmar was a honest and shocking look at a young boy working too hard for a pittance.