A mini-Revelation

by Bill Mousoulis
Revelation Perth International Film Festival 2020
VIRTUAL FEST: July 9 - 19

"Couched" is the moniker the Revelation Film Festival has given this year's edition, as it goes virtual like all other Australian film festivals currently, in these times of Covid. (It is also holding out for a December version of the festival, presumably in a conventional, "physical" format, but let's see what the future holds: no-one knows.) And so, I have dubbed this little preview of the festival "A mini-Revelation", in honour of this half-glass situation. As the riddle goes, is the glass half-empty or half-full? I myself don't like these virtual festivals, and I guess everyone else is the same too - who can beat the thrill of an audience and an atmosphere and a big screen and speakers? - but in these restricted times, the virtual is better than the nothing.

I title this piece "A mini-Revelation" for another reason also, and that is that despite Revelation being one of Australia's best film festivals, with a real emphasis on indie cinema, its programming of indie Australian work could be more daring (and, yes, those more daring films do exist). But points to director Richard Sowada and programmer Jack Sargeant for at least giving us something that the other major festivals don't. I know that their personal tastes would create a bolder festival, but they have pressures to draw audiences in.

"Couched" will run from July 9 to 19, and you can find all the info you need about it at the Revelation website. Ticketing info is here.

I've seen 5 of the Australian features in the festival and here are my impressions of them:

Warning: Spoilers

Bloodshot Heart

2020, 90 mins, Australia
dir: Parish Malfitano

World Premiere

Tickets here
(available Australia-wide, limited tickets)

Synopsis: At 44, Hans still lives with his mother.
When Matilda, a tenant half his age, moves in,
Hans relives old memories and is infatuated.
To win her love, Hans comes up with a dangerous plan.

A stylish-cum-lurid tapestry of trauma, memory and delusion, centred around a middle-aged Italian man living with his mother, who, suffice to say, should probably get out a bit more. For an Australian film, the script is bold, the way it doles its exposition out sparingly, leaving us guessing at the narrative and back-story for quite a few sequences in. After that, it's certainly engaging how the perspective alternates between our anti-hero's mind and a more objective reality. Ultimately, it settles into a kind of twisted psychodrama, reminiscent of colourful thrillers from the '70s and '80s from directors such as Cronenberg, De Palma, Lynch, or the more violent, lush vistas of more modern directors such as Noé or Von Trier. You will especially be surprised by certain surreal touches that actually are surplus to the narrative at hand (but I guess the filmmakers were having so much fun, they let it rip a bit). The film didn't leave me with much ultimately, in terms of any insights or deeper feelings, but this should be seen as a restriction of genre cinema, and not of this film itself. An engaging ride.

An Ideal Host

2020, 84 mins, Australia
dir: Robert Woods

World Premiere

Tickets here
(available internationally)

Synopsis: Liz just wants to host the perfect
dinner party but an unexpected guest sends
the evening into chaos, with potentially
apocalyptic consequences.

This micro-budget, local (Perth that is) feature is worth watching, it's brilliantly-scripted, a real model lesson on what to do with genre cinema, especially the genre of horror which relies on the rupture of the everyday. So many low-budget horror films will totally forget about rendering their context (the everyday world) with some interest, preferring to just offer a stereotypical portrayal of the reality, to just kill some time until the horror starts. An Ideal Host certainly ends up, in its last 20 minutes or so, in a familiar spot, as the alien invasion truly takes everyone (apart from our "ideal host") over, and with gory blood-splatter of course, but how it gets there is quite inventive and even delicious at times, the way it plays with our expectations and sense of logic. And so the first two acts of the film are the best, bending the genre so much that one wonders where, really, it is all going. It gets taken over in the end (like the characters) by the aliens invading, and becomes a standard horror film, but for a good hour or so, it's quite entertaining and delightful cinema, very well-made and full of surprises.

No Time for Quiet

2019, 82 mins, Australia
dir: Samantha Dinning, Hylton Shaw

WA Premiere

Tickets here
(available Australia and New Zealand)

Synopsis: During a long hot summer, 40 girls
and gender diverse youth aged 11 to 17
converge in Brunswick for the inaugural

This can't help but be a beautiful documentary. Everything it films is gold. That liminal space between childhood and adulthood, that minefield called teenagehood, is so fraught with confusions and difficulties, especially for girls and gender-fluid teenagers, that it is truly a beautiful thing when these girls can break free and express themselves, and feel a little bit of that universal sublime for themselves. Music does truly save, and self-empowerment is just a few guitar strums away. Melbourne still stamps itself as Australia's alternative artistic capital, as these music camp girls don't want to be Beyoncé or Celine Dion. Courtney Barnett drops in to impart some encouragement. She's no riot grrl, but I must say I quite like her! As an old fart now, I've seen it all before, in the Rock'n'Roll High School in Melbourne in the '90s (a centre very much influenced by the American riot grrls), but in this brave new millennium of heightened interactions (both hyper and real), the stakes are doubled - the bully boys are still at it, but there are also the mental conditions of anxiety and depression. The film doesn't shy away from these, and in fact creates some interesting animated effects illustrating them, such as the balloon faces and voices in one girl's head. I'm also glad the film doesn't finish with the big triumphant moment of the public concert and acclaim. It bravely documents the post-show blues, and catches a couple of the girls as they enter the adult world, especially Phoebe as she goes from near-suicide to multi-band member. Inspiring.

Underground Inc.

2019, 96 mins, Australia
dir: Shaun Katz

WA Premiere

Tickets here
(available Australia and New Zealand)

Synopsis: The story of the rise and fall of
'90s alternative rock, in the wake of Nirvana's
success. Looking for the next big thing, major
labels signed up dozens of unknown bands.

And so, after you experience that initial thrill of the power of music (see the film above, No Time for Quiet), you form a band with some mates and you try to get somewhere with that band, especially in the sphere of the underground scene, where it can be a huge slog (scungy conditions, little recognition, loss of money). In America in the early '90s, Nirvana's success was both a blessing and a curse, a true cautionary tale, for Nirvana themselves and for all the hitherto-unknown bands signed up at the time, if they were grunge or punk or weird in some other way. Money dictates, of course, and also destroys. It's the theme that the recent high-budget Punk series addressed, but Shaun Katz's film is truly valuable because he informs us of the lesser-known bands around at the time, and informs us entertainingly at that with great excerpts from said bands. It's a fast-based and jam-packed doco, but a little too splintered and lacking modulation. I would have liked to have seen more time devoted to those bands like Fugazi who circumvented the whole rags-to-riches-to-rags experience that the big companies created for these naive bands. Sometimes, you just DIY your art, and keep your soul intact at all times. But I guess there's not much drama in that.

The World's Best Film

2019, 88 mins, Australia
dir: Joshua Belinfante

WA Premiere

Tickets here
(available Australia-wide)

Synopsis: A personal documentary about people
who are living their fascinations and are the
‘best’ at what they do, The World’s Best Film
finds its stories in the off-beat and unique.

An awkwardly-titled film that of course couldn't possibly live up to its ambition (or conceit) of filming a number of people who are "the world's best" at what they do. Certainly the people Belinfante finds in different parts of the world are all quirky and unique, and one can see why the director admires someone like Werner Herzog, but the film falls flat in many respects. Apart from the awkward "world's best" contextualisation that Belinfante imposes upon his subjects, he also over-creates a "feel-good" atmosphere in the film, with some corny music. This is unfortunate, as Belinfante is a personable figure anyway, with an interesting back-story, and so doesn't need the corny adornments. Sometimes, simplicity is best: at its base, the film is charming, all the people filmed are interesting and capture our attention. The film reminds me very much of Genevieve Bailey's I am Eleven from 2011, another feature documentary following a number of people in different countries in the world. One really can't dislike these kind of films, but one can certainly wish they had more of an edge and depth to them.

Bill Mousoulis is a Greek-Australian independent filmmaker, film critic, and programmer.

Published June 29, 2020. © Bill Mousoulis 2020.