Sunday, October 25, 2009

Atom Egoyan and Warwick Thornton

On Friday night, I was at BAFTA, at the invitation of my old friend Atom Egoyan, to see his new film Chloe, and to listen to him deliver the David Lean Lecture. The lecture was filmed for a webcast, so you can see it if you follow the BAFTA link.

I've known Atom ever since we worked on Dr. Ox's Experiment at ENO, a full decade ago, and we've stayed in touch on and off ever since. He's somebody you can go back to, knowing they won't have changed in their friendship. He's also one of the most exciting and original thinkers, and brilliant film-makers / artists I've ever been lucky enough to encounter.

Chloe is, in some ways, familiar territory for the maker of Exotica. Julianne Moore plays a successful Toronto doctor, who becomes convinced that her husband is being unfaithful, and hires a prostitute to test him out. What's fascinating in this is the way in which different layers of fiction interact and begin to effect or become reality - fantasies and role-play turning into or creating truths. It's a clever game to play with a medium which, because of its photographic nature, we tend to take at face value. Atom exposes that. His world of performance as life and erotic tensions is something I've learnt from in terms of the Trilogy.

Saturday allows me the chance to meet another wonderful film director - Warwick Thornton. We screened his film Dark Science (scripted by David Milroy) as part of Origins, and now he's in London at the Film Festival, with his first feature Samson and Delilah. Samson and Delilah won the Camera d'Or at Cannes this year, and it isn't hard to see why. It's a painfully honest account of life in Aboriginal communities, touching on the poverty and violence, the petrol-sniffing, the exploitation of indigenous artists, the homelessness... and yet somehow still managing to feel life-affirming and ultimately hopeful. Warwick uses very little dialogue - and quite a proportion of what he does use is in Walipiri - but he employs an intense visual poetry and an incredible emotional engagement by the two teenage leads to move into a world of image, music and sheer intensity which is quite overwhelming.

Warwick is a large, solid Aboriginal man, with the self-deprecating humour characteristic of his people. Asked why there's so little dialogue, he recounts his own first teenage love, and his inability to speak to the girl. Asked about the actors, he simply says that he needed people who would be "with him" - people who came from the world he had experienced when he was young, and who had "done thirteen years of research on it". Their performances are hardly acting. Just living on screen - and telling us deeply uncomfortable truths.

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