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Clayton Lin: Weighing In

Terror Nullius + You Were Never Here@ Revelation Film Festival

Andrew Ryan

 Pauline Hanson with Lord Hummungus of Mad Max fame.

Pauline Hanson with Lord Hummungus of Mad Max fame.

Director: Soda Jerk (Dominique & Dan Angeloro)

Cast: The entire panoply of Australian cinema, sampled.
 

Terror Nullius is both a cathartic, political revenge fantasy, as well as a smart, if at times tasteless re-contextualizing of our cultural produce to the current zeitgeist.

The title is a play on the term “Terra Nullius”- Latin for uninhabited land, was the phrase used by European settlers to describe what is now the island nation of Australia- on the basis that there was no settled civilization anywhere in sight. This notion would then be used to justify the conquest, settlement and consequent expulsion of the Indigenous inhabitants of this land, the legacy of which that still leaves scars today.

Terror Nullius is made entirely from splicing the samples of a range of Australian films and films involving Australians from the 70s to the current era, juxtaposing them with other culturally relevant images in an attempt to re-imagine and re-write the context in which it is seen- for example there is a scene with Lord Hummungus quoting a speech from Tony Abbott during his Prime Ministership (about asylum seekers coming from illegal boats), and where the Man From the Snowy River sends a sly wink towards the way of a comely young man. The content is no doubt designed to provoke controversy from the first minute onward (and deemed too un-Australian by one of its co-funders, the Ian Potter Board, who later disassociated it from its work) and doesn’t hold back at all with its various references to Aboriginal solidarity and sovereignty.

Much of this work is indeed rooted in the idea of catharsis against the frustration of the state of contemporary Australia (and a very understandable one, albeit)- as scenes of white and Asian men and women in formal dress are suddenly rushed by a cavalcade man-eating sheep. On a technical note, it would surprise that a montage of unrelated footage-Lantana juxtaposed with Picnic At Hanging Rock, with a little work in post-production can do a lot of wonders, and it flows almost seamlessly.

Terror Nullius only works as a purely art film that is strictly contextual, and with a working knowledge of Australian cinema, and contemporary politics, so it’s one of those films that is difficult to judge on its own merits because simply the admission is you having done the homework for history class.

That said, if you’re upset about the state of Australia and the world in general, then even then you can find a dose of therapeutic laughter at the absurd theatre being played out.

***

 

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov

 

You Were Never Really Here is one of those exercises in really tight, concise storytelling, precise filmmaking, a deep character study, and the resulting product is one really good film that never lets up from minute one.


You Were Never Really Here subverts a lot of expectations in this kind of hard-boiled neo-noir-cum-western genre, where there is usually a veneer of redemption, and a touch of hope amidst the darkness of the world.

Not so here.

The film’s world is depicted, as cold, alienating and lonely and unremittingly brusque, and hopelessly venal where everyone is simply out for themselves, and the protagonist, named Joe, depicted by Joaquin Phoenix, is a former veteran and FBI agent who’s lived through and seen things he’d rather not have, and makes a living rescuing kidnapped children- as both a way to recapture the adrenaline of military service and to have a sense of purpose in his tortured existence- his post-traumatic stress disorder prevents him. He is contacted through middlemen by a Senator, Albert Votto who discreetly employs Joe, to rescue his daughter Nina from a group of wealthy and powerful men who have an inclination towards extremely young women.

The violence is on-screen is brief and crude, as we see after scene of anonymous suits being beaten with a ball peen hammer in a rather business-like manner- a subversive departure from an imagined America where the gun is mightier than all other weaponry, and violence is choreographed to an almost stylized and exciting manner.

Everything about this film is just sublime- the tension is expertly managed, with the drawn out build ups and then climax brief and hard-hitting like a hammer. This is the kind of movie that critics and cinephiles have been waiting to salivate over and pick apart the film scene by scene for every detail.