This year I organised a fairly large group of friends to purchase tickets for the Sydney Film Festival. Together we purchased around 80 tickets. Some of us are seeing more than 10 films, others just a handful. I was surprised that nobody else wanted to see Love Eternal. After the film was introduced by the bloke who programmed the “Freak Out” selection I realised that I’d not fully read this film’s description in the programme. I was expecting something completely different because I’d only skimmed the description. Love Eternal is largely about necrophilia.
I should have walked out, but I sat in hope. For me, it wasn’t entertaining, nor about finding love. Almost half way in I really wanted to walk out, but I was sat in the middle of the centre block of seats and I didn’t want to disturb those either side of me. It wasn’t that the film was badly made or poorly acted, it was just the subject matter. Suicide and death I can deal with in films, but not necrophilia. This wasn’t a funny zombie film, it was all quite serious and I’m afraid that if this kind of thing actually happens, I don’t need to know about it. Unfortunately the film became one of those what’s-seen-can’t-be-unseen moments. Hopefully I’ll eventually manage to forget it.
I know that it is a big call this early in the Sydney Film Festival, but Calvary by writer-director John Michael McDonagh has made the whole festival worthwhile for me. I think it is faultless and a model for other film makers in terms of story-telling, entertainment, brilliant script writing and character development. It deals with the role of the Catholic church in child abuse in Ireland (and many other places), but the writer-director very skilfully weaves the tale together through the life of a good priest played by the amazing Brendon Gleeson as he tends to his village flock under the threat of death from a victim of child abuse.
I also enjoyed the writer-director’s previous film The Guard, but I think this is even better as it deals with such a terrible aspect of church history, whilst reminding us of the good that is done by individuals within the church itself.
The script writing doesn’t avoid or trivialise any of the serious matters the film covers, but very effectively manages to recognise them and then pepper the story-telling with some wonderful conversational humour. It is a black comedy, but there are enough laughs to keep it truly entertaining and it is not so black a story that we are left without hope. I must also confess to loving the Irish accent of the brilliant cast as they seem to enjoy demonstrating John Michael McDonagh’s obvious love of language. One of the best lines for me was when Brendan Gleeson’s lead character drunkenly abuses his colleague (Father Leary, played by David Wilmot), saying that he lacks integrity and should be an accountant in an insurance firm. The is also an hilarious dialogue about those who join armies in peace time and whether a desire to murder someone should be seen to be as useful as an engineering degree.
In addition to all of this, the camera treats us to some stunning visuals of the Irish coast and Benbulbin to give us a true sense of place, and the musical score adds a further important dimension and mood to the film.
Film makers like John Michael McDonagh keep us coming back to the cinema. I stayed for his Q&A and two things he said stayed with me. Firstly he said that as a film maker he was committed to entertaining his audience. I think some other film-makers in this Festival could benefit from his advice. He writes to entertain and his method of story-telling leaves most others in the dust. Secondly, in response to a question he stated that it is foolish to refer to actors being “brave” in taking certain film roles, or for writers to take a “brave” perspective in dealing with subjects like child abuse. He said that was simply rubbish and that brave people are those who run into burning buildings to rescue others.
My score: 5/5, I really could find no faults at all.
I really wanted to like this film. I think it is the first Xavier Dolan movie that I’ve seen in a cinema and the cinematography in this film really is wonderful. There are beautiful panoramic shots of Canadian farming land, there is brilliant use of the close up and some artistic almost still imagery and there is the brilliant action footage shown above as our hero Tom, played by Xavier Dolan who also directed the film, tries to escape through a razor-sharp cornfield. There is a lot to like as well in the music he has used so well and in the strong cast of actors.
I was, however, left unsatisfied by the film and I’m not sure that I can really put my finger on it. It is a very complex film that attempts to deal with many deep issues including the love and loss of a lover, the grief of a mother for her lost child, loneliness, tension between rural and urban folk, isolation, repressed and ambiguous sexuality, dishonesty in relationships, and homophobia. Maybe there lies the problem in that many of these issues were not fully explored after being introduced. I do enjoy those art house films that leave a lot unsaid; leaving interpretation up to the audience. In Tom At The Farm Xavier Dolan holds back well on the storyline, but I think the development of the characters was somewhat jerky in many areas and that might have been because of the scenes that were edited out, as there were so many complex issues being covered.
Some elements of the plot or story seemed to stick out like sore thumbs and I didn’t think they needed to have been introduced, such as the dead son’s fictional female lover from Montreal. The point had already been made well enough and I think the visit of that character Sarah, to the farm, at the request of Tom, didn’t really add a lot to the story and it was also left just hanging there after a far more significant scene between Tom and a barman.
I was also left a little uncomfortable that we are again seeing a gay character portrayed as very flawed, inconsistent, fairly weak, and effectively persecuted and manipulated by a stronger bigoted homophobe. That tends to reinforce some rather unfortunate stereotypes. And for once I’d just like to see a gay character portrayed on the big screen that I didn’t have to be embarrassed by or feel sorry for.
My score: 3/5.