Most of the world isn't in a happy place so why are so many filmmakers determined to tackle dark or challenging subjects including paedophilia, the ravages of cancer, child monsters and the Apocalypse?
Judging by some of the films that launched at the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals, we are entering an era of melancholia at the cinema. And the initial reviews suggest more than a few of these titles could be an ordeal for audiences.
This gloomy, pessimistic outlook seems to be a global trend afflicting filmmakers from Europe, the US and Australia.
Seemingly in that vein is Aussie director Jonathan Teplitzky's Burning Man (pictured) which had its world premiere in Toronto on Saturday. To be released in Australia by Transmission/Paramount, the film stars Matthew Goode as a successful chef at a Bondi Beach restaurant who reacts to personal tragedy with reckless behaviour and an inability to connect with his 8-year-old son. The women in his life played by Bojana Novakovic, Essie Davis, Kerry Fox and Rachel Griffiths try to bring him back from the brink.
First-time Austrian director Markus Schleinzer's Michael, the saga of a seemingly mild officer worker who abused a 10-year-old boy, had its North American premiere in Toronto.
“This is a portrait of a monster as a quiet and perverse young man. Nothing sparks a viewer's interest in this 35-year-old man other than the enormity of his crime,” the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt declared when the film premiered in Cannes in May.
“The treatment of the child is another problem. He's a victim every moment. Nothing here makes you understand how an adult can cajole a child into trust or make the abnormal feel normal.”
Showcased in Venice, French director Vincent Gareng's Guilty is the true story of 17 people in the small town of Outreau who were wrongly accused of paedophilia and jailed in 2001. It's based on the memoirs of Alain Marécaux, one of the principle victims of the miscarriage of justice.
“I read the book and it was an upsetting experience," Garenq told Cineuropa. “I immediately contacted Marécaux to tell him that I wanted to tell his story, ask him some questions and ask him to contribute to the screenwriting. I didn't want him to suffer a second betrayal, after his betrayal by the justice system.”
Also unveiled in Venice, Shlomi Elkabetz's Testimony features Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians describing scenes of daily violence and tyranny during the Second Intifada.
Screened in Toronto, Gus Van Sant's Restless elicited both boos and applause from the audience. Scheduled to open here in November via Sony, it's the saga of a relationship between a morbid guy (Henry Hopper, son of Dennis Hooper) and a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) who has terminal brain cancer.
“A collection of meaningless quirks and affectations, Restless obnoxiously makes its way to the banal conclusion that we must accept death,” sniffed Collider.com's Matt Goldberg. “It succeeds in that it will make you pray for your own demise if it means you don't have to keep watching such an awful movie.”
In a similar vein, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt plays a cancer sufferer in Jonathan Levine's 50/50, a dramedy based on screenwriter Will Reiser's brush with the disease, co-starring Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard and Anjelica Huston.
Lars von Trier's Melancholia, which deals with the end of the world as Earth collides with a vast planet, told mostly through the eyes of a newly married couple played by Kirsten Dunst and Alexander Skarsgård, unspooled in Toronto after being launched in Cannes. Among the plaudits from critics, Roger Ebert enthused, “Technically, it's science fiction, but this is a sci-fi movie like no other. As the new planet grows in the sky, there are no TV news updates, no Cabinet meetings, no nuclear rockets fired at it, no surging mobs in the streets of Delhi, London and San Francisco. Not even any supermarket riots--because with the world ending, how much bottled water do you need, really?”
Opening in Australia in November, Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin is the tale of a young sociopath, played as a 6-year-old by Jasper Newell and as a teenager by Ezra Miller. Tilda Swinton plays his mother, a best-selling author who's perplexed, appalled, repelled and guilt-ridden over her son.
In light of all that, is it too much to hope for a few movies that are positive and uplifting?