Desperately Seeking Bing


Amidst the general lament about the state of the Australian film industry, the recent Melbourne International Film Festival reminded audiences that independent cinema is thriving. The festival was again a commercial and critical success.

However, there was something about this year’s films that troubled me. It was the people in them. These were characters you’d do well to avoid on the street, much less invite back home or introduce to your mum. I’m not a prude, and I know that there are many unsavory characters in this world, but after a two-and-a-half week onslaught of nasty people I began to wonder: where have all the Maria Von Trapps, the Hayley Lewis’s and the Bing Crosbys gone?

'4' 2005 Melbourne International Film Festival

‘4’ 2005 Melbourne International Film Festival

To give some examples from this year’s festival: the closing night film Election, about a Hong Kong triad, featured the pummeling of a man’s head with a large stone, followed by the murder of his wife with a shovel. The sound design in this film was fantastic: I got to hear the distinctive timbre of stone on skull as a head is rendered flat, Stanley-like. How memorable!

In The Ordeal a man is tortured; in our local offering, Wolf Creek several people are tortured; in the Russian masterpiece 4 I was tortured, as binge-drinking, geriatric peasants graphically rubbed pigs’ blood into their breasts. In Pusher 2 a man kills his father; in Turtles Can Fly a mother kills her child; in Kings and Queen a spoilt woman murders the father of her child and is denounced by her own father who, from his deathbed, wishes her dead.

As is evident from these examples, it’s certainly not the Year of the Family in independent cinema. It’s also not the Year of the Woman, with the full spectrum of rape being explored ad nauseum on screen. Even kittens weren’t safe in this year’s festival, as Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat proves.

Why should independent cinema be so obsessed with cruel and degraded humanity? Isn’t it also important to know that there are good, kind and trustworthy people out there with exemplary personal hygiene, willing to stop by the roadside to help a stranger, without having to opportunistically rape or torture them? After all, we live in a comfortable first-world society. Shouldn’t the festival line-up reflect our own lives in some way?

'The Ordeal' 2005 Melbourne International Film Festival

‘The Ordeal’ 2005 Melbourne International Film Festival

I doubt that many of the people who went to see this year’s films have themselves been tortured, beaten, imprisoned, or have killed domestic pets for pleasure. (Although the guy sitting next to me in 4 did seem to be getting awfully excited during the pigs’ blood on geriatric breasts sequence).

One of the joys of cinema is being transported into the lives of people who we would not normally meet, but identification with these characters is also an important part of the journey. It seems that contemporary independent cinema has forgotten about the ordinary folk, and is exclusively concerned with unnatural humans doing unnatural things.

As I sat through one particularly grueling, four-hour, degraded fiesta, gnawing my own elbow, I looked at the people around me and wondered what kind of characters these law abiding, polite and well socialized folk would identify with. I imagined the sorts of films that my friends and I might star in. I saw We Have a Lovely House in Carlton: a tale of a young monogamous couple who are slightly annoyed by their cat’s imperfect toilet training. Or The Move: two people whose TV is damaged by reckless removalists so that it can’t get Channel 2 properly. Or the cult classic Let’s Invite Them Over For Dinner: about a nice couple who come to dinner but bring red wine, even though we are having fish.

Perhaps the only way us nice folk will get a cinematic voice is to form our own festival; ‘The Melbourne International Nice People’s Festival’. Singing nuns and kitten lovers more than welcome.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.