Sydney Film Festival Reviewed

We reviewed some of the most buzzed films at this year's festival, including 'Dope', 'Ruben Guthrie', 'Gayby Baby' and 'Holding The Man'. Many were excellent. Some were not.

The Film That Will Creep Into Your Thoughts Three Days Later:


Strangerland, dir. Kim Farrant

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Meyne Wyatt, Lisa Flanagan

Reviewed by: Lauren Carroll Harris

I went into Strangerland expecting an art-house domestic drama in remote Australia. I was so wrong. It’s more like Picnic at Hanging Rock meets Mystery Road, 2013’s neo-Western-ish crime film by Ivan Sen.

Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes’ children go wandering and are swallowed whole by the beautiful, malicious desert, as a devilish red dust storm descends. In his efforts to track the kids, Hugo Weaving’s detective seems powerless against the outback’s black-hole pull. The film functions as a super-tense missing-girl thriller in its own right, but it also functions on this whole other plane of existence as a nuanced political statement about what the hell we are doing on the stolen land of Australia. This whole country is a crime scene — kids missing, families self-destructing, land gone wrong, Aboriginal ancestors adrift, convict ancestors forgotten. And like Mad Max: Fury Road, here the desert is a badland hostile to those who stray into it, shown this time using creepy helicopter and drone photography. Slowly but surely the film unfurls its way towards an unpredictable and quietly hopeful ending.

Mega kudos to Kim Farrant and co-writers Fiona Seres and Michael Kinirons. When you support women to tell stories on screen, a whole set of rarely-aired voices, perspectives and characters come to the fore. So much discussion about women in cinema has centred on the concept of ‘strong female characters’. Talk is now turning to women behind the scenes, and Strangerland shows just how essential strong female directors and screenwriters are to the industry. The women in Strangerland aren’t stereotypically badass or fierce-looking. They’re very regular women struggling with things we all struggle with; they’re defined in and of themselves, rather than purely against their male counterparts; and they’re essential in driving the narrative and realising the film’s themes — all of which express so much more than the idea of a ‘compelling female lead’, or even the Bechdel test.

Police procedural, sex, gender, the spectre of Aboriginal dispossession, slow-unravelling psychodrama — there’s so much going on in this film, which is brought together with sophistication and subtlety. Strangerland unassumingly goes way beyond your usual art-house fare to the heart of a scared and scary colonised country.

For fans of: Slow-burn psychological crime mysteries, losing your mind in the outback, drinking XXXX in shitty Australian pubs, landscape films

Opening in Australia: In cinemas now.

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