HKIFF 2012: Day 10 Dim Sum Reviews: Taxi Driver, Truffaut & Snowtown

James Marsh, Asian Editor
Not only was today April Fools Day and Day 10 of HKIFF 2012, but it was also my birthday, and I saw it as a personal gift from the festival itself to me that a newly restored print of one of my all-time favourite films was screened on this day, so I made certain to be in attendence. I also discovered a new (to me) Truffaut film and finally caught up on one of 2011's most highly-regarded thrillers.

Day 10 (1 April)



Taxi Driver (dir. Martin Scorsese, USA)

What is there left to say about Scorsese's seminal tale of urban alienation and misguided vigilantism? Robert De Niro gives one of his most iconic performances as Vietnam veteran-turned-insomniac cabbie Travis Bickle, whose attempts to integrate back into society and play nice with Cybill Shepherd backfire horribly, sending him on a murderous crusade to wash the filth off New York City's streets. Seeing the film in its newly restored form in front of a packed crowd of both adoring fans and - from the reactions it was getting - a good percentage of first-timers was a revelation. Already one of my absolute favourite films, Scorsese's Palme D'Or winner revealed itself to be funnier than I had remembered, as well as brooding, brutal and just flat-out incredible in almost every department. A masterpiece in the truest sense of the word.




Small Change (dir. Francois Truffaut, France)

I share my birthday with the French New Wave auteur, or I would had he not already shuffled off his mortal coil. In celebration of what would have been his 80th birthday, HKIFF presented a beautiful looking print of this 1976 classic. Set during the summer holidays in the small French town of Thiers, the film follows the children, parents and teachers of this community in a number of episodic adventures, ranging from an elaborate mission to get food to an abandoned young girl, to sneaking into the movie theater, to a nerve-jangling sequence as a neglected toddler follows his pet cat out onto the window ledge of his top floor apartment. The performances are uniformly excellent and the film maintains a whimsical and good-natured tone, even as it embraces such themes as neglect, child abuse and poverty. A film I was totally unaware of before today, it now ranks as one of my favourite in the director's generous body of work. 




Snowtown (dir. Justin Kurzel, Australia)

I had heard nothing but rave reviews of this film following its screening at Fantastic Fest last September, but had been unable to squeeze it into my schedule back then, or indeed at any other time until right now. Perhaps not the most appropriate film to watch on my birthday, but I figured that even in its grimmest moments I would at least appreciate the film's technical merits and feel my time had not been wasted. Based on the true story of Australia's most prolific serial killer, John Bunting (here portrayed by Daniel Henshall), the film is a stripped down and unflinching depiction of sadism, brutality and manipulation that refuses to make things easy for its audience. Lucas Pittaway gives an incredibly sympathetic portrayal as the teenager whose world collides with neighbourhood vigilante Bunting after being abused by his mum's new boyfriend, only to get sucked into a hellish new life with seemingly no way out. The performances are all great and the deadpan execution is reminiscent of John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. However, a few indecipherable voice messages and unidentifiable bodies along the way prevented me from unreservedly enjoying this difficult yet impressively staged film.  
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