Fri, Oct 24, 2008 - Page 16 News List

Down Under, Outback and beyond

Forget Victoria Bitter, cork hats, crocodiles and Charlene Mitchell from ‘Neighbours,’ cross-cultural pollination is this year’s theme at the Australian Film Showcase

By Martin Williams  /  STAFF REPORTER

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The poster for this retrospective of Aussie films from the last decade is eye-catching. Two Caucasian girls jump in the air in a desert vista. The sand is red, the sky is clear and blue and tufts of plant-life punctuate a scene roasting under the desert sun. In front of the girls is an arrangement of rocks spelling “Australia.”

The image is ironic because the films in the lineup are far removed from the eternally marketable myth that Australian identity is forged in the Outback.

Had the festival’s focus been exploring that theme to its most sinister limit, the Australian Commerce and Industry Office might have screened two of the finest white-men-in-the-Outback sagas: Wolf Creek and Wake in Fright. But presenting such unflatteringly violent films might have led to a reshuffle of consular staff, so let’s not be picky.

What we have instead are seven films that have had little or no exposure in Taiwan. And unlike the message of the poster, most touch on the surprising, and possibly accidental, theme of immigration and migrants.

Of the most potential interest to local audiences is last year’s The Home Song Stories, an autobiographical family tale. It stars the excellent Joan Chen (陳沖) as Rose, a Shanghai nightclub entertainer who moves to Australia with her children but cannot find peace in her relationships or herself and gradually unravels. The film digs deeper into the present and past than comfort might allow for the characters; many Taiwanese will know of similar stories from family experience.

Romulus My Father, also from last year, stars Eric Bana as a rural-based Yugoslav immigrant in the 1960s whose German wife takes on a lover and bears a second child. Like Rose, she unravels and the consequences are profound.

Clubland (2007, released in the US as Introducing the Dwights) has proved more divisive among critics. The Village Voice called it a “sitcom-grade embarrassment,” but the film, which chronicles the misadventures of a Sydney family whose British immigrant matriarch/stand-up comedian (Brenda Blethyn) manipulates her children, has its champions. This is another film in which migration generates deep-seated regret in its main character, who then punishes those in her care, though the film is more wry and sardonic than bleak.

Peaches (2004) focuses on the life of Steph, the daughter of a Vietnamese immigrant, whose rural cannery boss (Hugo Weaving from V for Vendetta and the Matrix trilogy) was close to her deceased mother. Steph starts a relationship with him as she reads her mother’s diary. South Australia has featured in some of Australia’s best films over the decades, and this one just might belong on the list.

The Wog Boy (2000) offers much more fun and laughs than the other entries. Star Nick Giannopoulos, who plays an unemployed young man ridiculed on the national stage as a “dole bludger,” makes use of years of experience in TV and stage shows — such as Acropolis Now — that mined comedy from a Greek-Australian perspective, though a lot of the jokes and the flavor of the accents will be lost in the subtitles.

For the kids is Hildegarde (2001). Not concerned with migration (except, perhaps, the travels of the title duck at the hand of “ducknappers”), this film about children in a single-parent family embarking on an odyssey to save their pet and a bunch of other birdlife makes for an interesting comparison with the Taiwanese feature A Piggy Tale from many years ago.

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