Pulse was billed as an intriguing mix of sci-fi, teen angst, queer drama and some body swap action thrown in for good measure (from Australia). It was on at Dendy Newtown and that is just a short walk away for me so I selected this film without another thought.
It turned out to be one of the best films that I saw at the Festival this year. It stars the amazing Daniel Monks as our hero. He also wrote the film, edited and co-produced it with the other key driving force Stevie Cruz-Martin who was also the film’s director and cinematographer. The crowd-funded budget for the film was less than $60,000 I think! The film very skilfully and frankly deals with some major issues in contemporary society: developing sexuality, identity and same-sex attraction; discrimination; dealing with a physical disability; and ultimately, learning what really matters in friendships and relationships.
Daniel’s character Olly is in love with his straight best friend at high school Luke (played by Scott Lee), but ultimately he realises that this cannot work out well. Olly eventually opts for a body swap into a girl of the same age which would have the potential to kill two birds with the one stone: his physical disability and his inability to be sexually attractive to Luke. After the body swap Olly’s character in the film becomes the sexually liberated Olivia (played Jaimee Peasley), but Olly’s conscience is still played by Daniel Monk. Putting all of this together without confusing the audience is quite simply a masterpiece in film editing. Is young Daniel the next star of the Australia film industry?
I should also commend Stevie Cruz-Martin’s wonderful and innovative cinematography which gave the film a very contemporary and personal feel.
The only disappointing aspect of this showing was that it was somewhat marginalised in one of the smaller strands of Sydney Film Festival – “Screenability”. Good on them for featuring it in this way, but really, it deserved a much bigger screening at one of the major venues. I saw quite a few big-budget foreign films at sold-out major venues that were nowhere near as good as this film. I hope that Pulse gains more exposure and attracts more attention at future festivals. A beautiful film that is thoroughly enjoyable. 4.5/5
Call Me By Your Name is a gay romance set in Italy. It is gently paced and beautifully set, but I think it runs far too long.
In the clip above you get a good feel for what is not so great and what is great about this film. Armie Hammer first talks about his own reaction to portraying male-to-male sex and then his younger less experienced partner in the film, Timothée Chalamet, really gets to the heart of what makes this film of the celebration of love special – the complete “lack of a violent oppressor or deterrent to this love”. Armie’s character in the film is ultimately uncomfortable with himself, but I think his portrayal also lacks the multiple dimensions that Timothée brought to his role.
I agree with Jordan Hoffman from The Guardian who highlighted the very supportive father-to-son exchange towards the end of the film. It is a wonderful moment and reinforces what Timothée says of the film above. Beautiful, but a little long. 3.5/5
God’s Own Country is a wonderful film from the UK. It is reviewed and promoted as a British version of Brokeback Mountain, but it is actually much better than that film. I loved everything about this film right from the start: the setting in Yorkshire; the stoic nature of the locals; the cast and their acting; the cinematography; the story-telling; the tenderness of the developing romantic relationship between the two guys; the presentation and direction of the film itself; the weaving in of archival imagery; and the realness of such a situation.
I can see the resemblance to Brokeback Mountain, but I found this film to be far more believable and I empathised a great deal more with the leading characters. I thought they were much less wooden in this film. The performances by Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu are amazingly good and starkly different. I hope we see a lot more from both of them. One of the best gay-themed movies I’ve ever seen. Beautiful. 4.5/5
Closet Monster was my final film for this festival and so it ended as it began, on a high. It is a wonderfully told queer coming of age story that apparently is based on writer/director Stephen Dunn’s own experience as a teenager.
There is a lot to enjoy in this film. Our hero Oscar, excellently played by the talented-beyond-his-years Connor Jessup, has a pet hamster called Buffy who provides companionship and dispenses wisdom (via the voice of Isabella Rossellini). Oscar’s interactions with Buffy are a delight every single time. Connor Jessup almost seems born to play this role, but I thought the same about his acting in the second series of American Crime. He’s simply brilliant.
Stephen Dunn brings so much imagination to his story telling. He drops magical moments throughout the film to light up the tale and to bring Oscar’s lingering childhood horror to life. And he perfectly balances the emotional core of the film with his amusing and refreshingly different creative style. This could so easily have failed.
It is all so well done. As well, it is beautifully shot in several memorable scenes that serve to underline Oscar’s journey in life, his relationships and his developing sexuality.
I hope that both Stephen Dunn and Connor Jessup keep making films. Talents like theirs keep us going to the cinema.
My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4+/5 (Most people would think this to be very special.)