Day 4 - Charlie's Country, Appropriate Behavior and Chasing Berlusconi #LFF

Apologies for the delay in posting Day 4, busy weekend! So today, tales of aboriginal strife, bi-sexual identity and a kidnapped prize harness racehorse. Usual mix then.

Charlie's Country, the latest from The Tracker director Rolph de Heer, marks a welcome return to the big screen for David Gulpili following a personal battle with society and alcoholism. A contemporary tale of racial conflict in provincial Australia, we follow the titular Charlie as he wages a particularly low-key battle with local law enforcement.

Set in the North Eastern territory, outside Darwin (the nearest big city) we first meet Charlie in his 'home' - little more than a lean to with a grubby mattress - staring wistfully at a photograph we don't get to see. Over the course of the next hour and twenty minutes or so, we witness Charlie attempting to live his life in peace, despite increasingly meddlesome whitefellas. He tries to supplement his benefits (doled out as soon as they are received to a variety of family members and other creditors) by first hunting with a sawn-off (along with his friend Black Pete), then with a spear he fashions when his illegally modified weapon is confiscated. The spear is of course also confiscated by the same, seemingly good intentioned coppers.

Charlie's Country is a superb movie that forms a welcome addition to a growing body of work from Australia that isn't afraid to tackle the ongoing human rights abuses perpetrated every day by the government in a so-called 'developed nation'. By viewing these issues through Charlie's easy-going desire, merely to be left alone on his own land (now entirely consumed by the white settlers), we get an incredibly touching view of the deep divisions in the outlying Australian society. As the police eventually reveal themselves when their attempts to 'go easy on the blackfella' fail, we get to see their real view of the Aboriginal people in the society. 

Where to start with Chasing Berlusconi then? Well, maybe with a hearty get well soon to its director, Ole Endresen who was unable to make the screening due to contracting pneumonia. We wish him the speediest of recoveries. His movie is an absolute blast. Completely nuts in the best Norwegian way, this one is set in the apparently dark world of harness racing. Nope, we had no idea, so go look it up, link here, because we like to be helpful.

Bjarte's best days of harness racing are probably behind him, he's overweight, hasn't won in some time and is consequently down the pecking order when the good horses are given out. Add to that a nymphomaniac, shopaholic wife who refuses to take her meds and Bjarte is soon up to his chubby neck in debt. To make matters worse, his gardner has sold the debt to a couple of particularly nasty Finns. Bjarte has a plan though. Drug the favourite (the Berlusconi of the title) in the big race, bet big on the second favourite. What could possibly go wrong.

As you may have guessed, quite a lot. Very soon Bjarte is being chased by the economic crime division, the Fins, the incompetent kidnappers he employed to drug the horse and a hit man, know only as The Animal. Chasing Berlusconi perfectly nails the right tone between dangerous hitmen and bat-shit crazy humour. Casualties mount up and Endresen doesn't shy away from the violence but everything is just the right degree off centre for this all to work without you questioning the tone. Easily the funniest movie we've seen so far this festival, we don't have high hopes for a UK release (booo) but on the off chance, you should definitely seek it out.

Appropriate Behavior (I'm letting it get away with the American spelling for now) tells the story of an American - Iranian (never sure which way around you put those words, apologies if it should be Iranian - American) bi-sexual twenty something attempting to deal with the breakup from her long term girlfriend, finding a role in life (or at least a job that isn't marshalling five year olds into filmmaking), attempting to come out to her traditional parents and replacing her entire drawer of underwear, brutally mangled by her ex.

Written and directed by Desiree Akhavan (with a good deal of input by producer / partner in crime Cecilia Frugiuele), there is simply too much wonderful, relatable material in this movie to present in a review this short. Akhavan has a brilliantly quirky view on the world, clearly born out of first hand experience and her acting is perfect to convey this. The bi-sexual element was talked about a lot post-screening but that's really a red-herring, this is a story for anybody who's ever felt an outsider. And let's face it, that's all of us.

Filled with superbly odd laugh out loud moments (underwear shopping is a killer and the movie also contains a threesome scene that will have you choking with awkward laughter), Appropriate Behavior is an absolute joy. Grounded enough to keep it real but with just enough absurdity to keep it entertaining, this movie also has some interesting and importaint things to say about acceptance and tolerance, even within parts of society we all assume have dealt with these things. We will be hearing more from Akhavan, I'm certain of it.

Check out Jo's take on Appropriate Behaviour below.

Si

Struggling to fill the void between trying to be the perfect Persian daughter, a hip Brooklyn gal and a bisexual, Appropriate Behaviour sees Shireen fail at all three in a hilarious first film from writer/director and star Desiree Akhavan.

Shireen is a twenty something in New York from a privileged family trying to find answers to love and life. So far so typical right? Shireen is typical in that narcissistic realm most middle class twenty something’s inhabit. Shireen’s sphere is made more complicated by the fact that is Iranian and bi sexual. When her former girlfriend Maxine asks if she is coming to a party as her girlfriend Shireen says  ‘are you mad? In a room full of people from a country where people are stoned to death for being gay? No you are coming as my white friend’. This is tonally where we are with Appropriate Behaviour, written, directed by and starring the absolutely wonderful Desiree Akhavan. Like a cross between Julia Roberts and Sophia Loren Akhavan’s Shireen is an angst ridden introspective creative who undoubtedly draws comparison to Lena Dunham and / or her Girls character Hannah Horvitz but Desiree is different in many ways to Lena’s creations and both should be taken on their own merits. Both women are very funny and unflinchingly honest although I find Akhavan’s humour a little less uncomfortable and softer round the edges than Dunham’s. 

Shireen’s relationship with her girlfriend Maxine is shown in flashback, starting with the good stuff and deteriorating, as did the relationship. The women have such an easy confidence with each other that it is one of the most realistic portrayals of love I’ve seen on the screen. The writing combined with the chemistry made it almost seem voyeuristic at times. Rebecca Henderson is definitely one to watch. As is Ken Adsit, a Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock player who simply has the best lines and scenes in the film and in this film that’d saying something.  Best to just let you watch it rather than give anything away but his ‘interview’ of Shireen had me laughing a LOT.  There is also the most honest portrayal of a threesome I’ve ever seen. Not that I know what they’re like.  Ahem.

Jo