Lynden Barber lets loose on some of the lesser films from this year's festival.
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19 Jun 2012 - 4:54 PM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 6:30 PM

The final weekend and fatigue was settling in. If this were Cannes or Berlin, most of the attendees would have left town or least be packing their bags by now. So I guess that didn't put this viewer in the most indulgent of moods for a film as flawed as Australian director Tony Krawitz's stab at the Christos Tsiolkas novel, Dead Europe.

This Australian film is jammed with problems so blatant that it was hard to understand how they were let through by the producers. Ewan Leslie stars as a Greek Australian whose decision to defy his father (the brilliant William Zappa, typecast as a Greek papa again) and return to Greece triggers the older man to commit suicide. Leslie's protagonist visits his homeland to scatter Pop's ashes and discovers what the old man got up to in WWII.

[
Watch interview with Tony Krawtiz ]

Here's where the film – initially directed with real flair – dives recklessly off the edge of the cliff of credibility. In its broad outline, the story is essentially the same as The Spider's Strategem, which I'd seen in the festival's Bertolucci retrospective the previous weekend: the son of a father from the WWII generation returns home and finally learns the ugly truth about what his father really got up to in the war.

But the Bertolucci film was made in 1970 and its characters are aged appropriately for the story. Dead Europe arrives 42 years later. It's set in contemporary times, as a scene showing modern Greek riot police makes clear. Yet the characters are roughly the same age as those in The Spider's Stratagem.

Meanwhile, Zappa, the actor, was born in 1948, i.e. approximately 15 years too young to play a character capable of doing what he's meant to have done in the war. Meanwhile, Leslie is meant to represent the post-WWII generation grappling with the sins of the fathers – yet the actor, was not born until 1980, making him the right age to be a grandson, not a son.

A laboured finale lacking even the most basic credibility added more fuel to the film's self-immolation.

Also in the official competition was Neighbouring Sounds. This Antonioni-influenced debut from Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca took the late Italian master's key obsession, middle class alienation, spinning a different angle of approach. Here the inhabitants of a single street in the city of Recife are worried by crime to the point where their security – aimed at keeping the criminals out – ends up becoming their metaphorical prison. Its slowness, lack of drama and drift towards tedium was compensated to a degree by Mendonca's gift for mise-en-scène. His next films could be more interesting.

Neither of these films seemed likely winners and if Krawitz were not Australian it's questionable whether Dead Europe would have been in the competition at all. The final competition film, screening on the final Sunday, was the two part, five-hour Gangs of Wasseypur, a Bollywood crime epic full of energy, dynamism and melodrama a-go-go, but suffering – at least in its first part – from cartoon characters and episodic storytelling that made it hard for this viewer, at least, to care. I skipped part two. Too much, too late in the schedule.

My brain hurt even more on hearing the news that competition winner was the pretentious Greek head-scratcher Alps (which in my part-viewing – I left before the end – should not even have been in the festival, let alone the competition; see the SBS full-length review for a very different view).

This out-of-nowhere decision, which judging from the Twitter reaction, surprised even those who admired the film, prompts various theories:

(i) this year's jury, chaired by Rachel Ward, lacked the experience and maturity of last year's jury, which featured Chinese veteran director Chen Kaige and made the more credible decision to award Iranian title, A Separation (which went on to win acclaim around the world).

(ii) the jury was split and agreed to award the film they all liked a bit – their third or fourth favourite.

(iii) the jury took very literally the competition's official raison d'etre, to discover films that took film language in a new direction. This Alps unquestionably did. But innovating is relatively easy. Making innovations spring to life on the screen, rather than lying there inert as so many callow calculations, is another thing altogether.

(iv) the jury lives on Bizarro world, the cube-shaped planet from Superman comics in which everything happens back to front. I like this theory the best.