We’re largely giving the Sydney Film Festival a miss this year. Again. We had two disappointing years in a row a while back, and now the Writers’ Festival seems to have filled the need for a bit of festive culture as winter comes on. What’s more, the big hits of each year’s festival mostly turn up in the picture theatres pretty soon anyhow. I do miss the fabulous State Theatre picture palace, especially that moment where a guest director steps out onto the stage and gasps at the sheer OTTness of it all.
Tonight my Movie-Going Companion was otherwise engaged, so I set off to the Palace Theatre in Norton Street, which is palatial only in name, for a 6.45 screening of David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom. At ten past seven, the lights hadn’t dimmed. People in the front rows started a slow clap, but it didn’t develop any steam, though there were mutterings – a movie starting 25 minutes late is a rarity in these fast turnover days. A young man stepped out into the space in front of the screen, walked up to a microphone that was standing there minding its own business and started complaining abut the traffic. ‘I’m in such a state,’ he said. It took me an hour to get here from Bondi. But you don’t really want to know about that.’ He was right of course. But who was he? ‘I really am all jittery. Maybe I should just sit down.’
‘It’s all right,’ called out a woman’s voice from the now darkened auditorium. ‘We’ve all been there. Take a minute to calm down.’
‘Thank you,’ said the man at the mike, who looked a bit like he’d been sent by Central Casting to play a hipster in a Tina Fey sitcom, only with an Australian accent. ‘Thank you. I can feel the sharing.’ And the chance to deploy some benign irony seemed to restore his equilibrium. ‘But really, it took so long to get here, and I don’t just mean the traffic. I finished the first version of the script for this in 2000.’ Now we knew he was David Michôd.
When he left film school and heard that Lantana and other films had taken ten years to get made, he thought those people must have been weird But now he understands. He thought this script was ready to shoot in 2000, and told us to be glad that we weren’t about to watch a movie made from that script. You just keep chiselling away, a bit here, a bit there. You try to get someone to direct it and are gracefully rejected. And then you make it, and expect every screening to be the one where people hate it. ‘Please don’t let this be the one,’ he pleaded in conclusion. ‘Please like it.’
He fuffled around putting the mike away and walked out through the audience.Whether by design or by chance he had charmed us to pieces.
The lights went down, the movie came on without any ads, and there was no point at all trying to reconcile all that self deprecation with the confident story-telling that followed. All the performances were marvellous: the marvels included Ben Mendelsohn better than I’ve ever seen him, and Jacqui Weaver as a personification of the wolf mother: protective of her cubs and heaven help anyone who threatens them.
I came home one satisfied punter.