Thursday, June 6, 2013

Travelling the Mystery Road

Ivan Sen's Dreamland remains the best film I can recall having seen that never actually got a release. When the end of the decade comes along and we're discussing the best films of the last ten years, Dreamland will be there right towards the tippity top and it will have never been seen by more than a few hundred people. What a crying shame. No, really, if I had properly functioning tear ducts I would probably cry over this (alas, my infamous inability to cry at the drop of the cinematic hat permits me from doing so). I saw it at its Melbourne International Film Festival screenings in 2010 on opening day and it remained the strongest film I saw for the entire festival. I heard rumblings that it was being re-edited into a more conventional picture, but I shudder to think at Sen's hypnotic, spiritual, experimental, elliptical masterpiece being tinkered and tailored into something more traditional. This article at Inside Film mentions a St Tropez festival screening as well as a very limited release in Paris, France, so hopefully a few more people out there had a similar reaction to mine.

I bring this up because the trailer for Sen's next film has been released. Mystery Road has several elements of Dreamland that made me recall that earlier film. Elements like Tasma Walton (now given the chance to speak more than one or two line) and the barren open space of the desert (Australia rather than New Mexico's area 51 this time). Those are, however, the only similarities. In fact, the trailer for Sen's pseudo-western reminds me more of the Australian film I saw directly after Dreamland - Patrick Hughes' Red Hill. This genre has sort of popped up in the Australian industry since - and please correct me if I'm wrong - John Hillcoat's The Proposition made such a splash in 2005. It also helps that our landscape really adheres itself to these raw, stripped versions of the genre.

Sen's Mystery Road has been quite heavily buzzed and I wish I was at the Sydney Film Festival see its premiere (it is the opening night selection). I wasn't too keen on Toomelah, the film he made between Dreamland and Mystery Road, and I'm super keen to see what he does with the genre elements and that wonderful cast. Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten (who coincidentally starred in Red Hill), Jack Thompson, David Field, Tom Barry, Robert Mammone, Roy Billing, Bruce Spence, and even the seemingly long lost Zoe Carides make up a wonderful cast (most of which are barely glimpsed or not at all in the trailer). Not just them, but there's also a Blue Heelers reunion with Tasma Walton and Damian Walshe-Howling. I wonder if local press will at all pick up on that or if it's just my Blue Heelers loving self who's excited for that.

There is always a "rookie cop out of his depth", isn't there?
It will be interesting to see how Sen responds to the more mainstream-baiting elements at work here, or whether it's just a trailer skewed at getting a few more bums in seats by marketing it as something closer to a thriller than it really is. If the film is good, like I suspect it might, then I hope it finds an audience. I think Sen is one of the most vital filmmakers in this country - my issues with Toomelah had nothing to do with his artistic credibility; he made a final directorial achievement with it - and while a film with that cast and that story have no chance of falling into the abyss ala Dreamland, it might be nice if he struck upon a hit and allowed that previous film to finally see the light of day.

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