Woody Allen with his cherished typewriter

The Sydney Film Festival opened with the smartly surprising funny and sassy Australian feature NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN, at the stupendously stately STATE THEATRE.

The feature film debut of Peter Templeman, whose short film THE SAVIOUR was nominated for an Oscar five years back, NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN stars Ryan Kwanten and boasts a standout breakout performance by Sarah Snook.

The bawdy comedy was a great way to kick off the Festival and do a bit of flag waving to boot. Highlights for this weekend include:-

Beginning with Allen’s childhood, WOODY ALLEN: A DOCUMENTARY chronicles the trajectory and longevity of Allen’s career, from his work as a TV scribe, stand-up comedian and frequent TV talk show guest, to a writer-director averaging one film per year for more than forty years. Director Robert Weide covers Allen’s earliest film work to his recent globetrotting phase and his latest success, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.

Weide is the perfect filmmaker to do this doco. He previously made the Oscar nominated LENNY BRUCE: SWEAR TO TELL THE TRUTH and director on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM.

Woody allows him into his inner sanctum of writing space complete with the typewriter he has used to bash out all his scripts and stories.

He takes him on a guided tour of his childhood haunts – home, school, movie theatre. His mother and sister give personal insights.
The film features interviews with Josh Brolin, Penelope Cruz, John Cusack, Larry David, Scarlett Johansson, Julie Kavner, Diane Keaton, Sean Penn, Chris Rock, Naomi Watts, Dianne Wiest, Owen Wilson and Martin Scorsese.

It really is a most enlightening look at the work, influences, life, scandal, and longevity of one of America’s leading film makers.
From flops to successes, this movie shows the sheer prolificosity of this supreme survivor of cinema, the romantic philosopher, the self-deprecating nebbish, the helmer who has steered more Oscar winning performances from women than any living director.
Men of his gender have shone as well and it is said often in the film that actors want to work for him and want to please him.

He has directed nearly 50 pictures and comes from a gene pool of longevity so, like Queen Elizabeth, it could well be that we will be celebrating a Woody Jubilee film. We can only hope.

If this does not whet the appetite to revisit his films, I don’t know what will. It should create a ground swell for the Sydney Film Festival to have a Woody Allen retrospective next year. Yes!

Like Lysistrata Lebanese style, WHERE DO WE GO NOW? (M) is a powerful indictment against the bloody minded blood lust of men and their abrogation of their humanity to superstition.

Nadine Labaki’s second feature opens with an astonishing scene of a funeral chorus, a group of women chanting and slow-marching to a cemetery, each woman peeling off to attend a particular grave.

These women are from a small, isolated village in Lebanon. Some are Christians, some are Muslims. But they share a sorority of gossip, song, community projects and motherhood.

The men of the village are caught up in Cro-Magnon cultural cretinism fueled by a false fidelity to their faiths. Islam and Christianity don’t have a prayer when their adherents forsake the spirituality and forfeit the sanctity of life. Inter-religious tensions threaten neighbours to become Neanderthals so that the women join forces to stop their men killing one another. Interestingly, the local clerics, priest and imam, side with the women in staving off the storm clouds of savagery clouding the community.

Writer/director Nadine Labaki was inspired to make this film after becoming a mother. “War is utter absurdity, an evil that we inflict upon ourselves for nothing, or at least for things that are not worth killing ourselves over. And it was because I became a mother that I felt this absurdity more strongly than before.”

HERE DO WE GO NOW? Is not just an anti war film, it’s about how to avoid war, and employs irony, farce and song in its arsenal against monstrous machismo and misogyny.

© Richard Cotter

7th June, 2012

Tags: Sydney Film Festival Preview, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.