The book is never better than the film

23 March 2012

My latest column for Killings, where I look at film adaptations of novels, was published a couple of days ago:

The value of a novel adaptation is primarily how well it works as a film, and to a lesser extent, how well it expresses the essence of the source material rather than how well it mimics it. The book is never better than the film; the two are incomparable. It’s not reasonable to critique a film for not functioning in the same way that a novel does. A film may fail on cinematic grounds, but it should not be accused of failing on literary grounds.

Head over to Killings to read the full article and leave a comment.


Cinema Autopsy on the 2009 Samsung Mobile AFI Awards Feature Film Nominees

29 October 2009
Damon Gameau as Greg Shackleton in Balibo

Damon Gameau as Greg Shackleton in Balibo

The nominations for the 2009 Samsung Mobile AFI Awards have come out and in a year that has been very strong for Australian cinema the nominations have nicely captured the diversity of Australian films that were eligible. This was the first year that I voted in the individual categories as a professional member of the Australian Film Institute and while the nominations don’t 100% reflect how I voted, I would have never expected them to and I’m overall pleased with the outcomes.

Among the feature film nominees I’m particularly happy to see Balibo, Samson and Delilah and Mary and Max – the three films that I regard as easily the best Australian films of 2009 – to be nominated for both the AFI Members’ Choice Award and the Samsung Mobile AFI Awards for Best Film. I’m less enthusiastic, but not surprised, about Beautiful Kate and particularly Mao’s Last Dancer also getting nominations in both these categories but I certainly don’t begrudge the fact that are included. Having said that, I would up upset if Mao’s Last Dancer won anything over the far superior films that it is up against.

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Trisha (Anastasia Baboussouras) and Katrina (Sophie Lowe) in Blessed

The interesting point of difference between the two best film categories is that Australia got the sixth nomination for the AFI Members’ Choice Award while Blessed received the sixth nomination for the Samsung Mobile AFI Awards for Best Film. Both films are flawed but nevertheless contain elements of considerable merit. They also curiously represent the growing divide between the different types of films that various commentators argue we should be making more of or less of depending on where these commentators stand on the whole art versus commerce debate.

There were a number of films not represented in the nominations that I would have liked to see included but in the majority of cases their absence is understandable. I only saw Newcastle recently and was completely bowled over but its energetic depiction of youth surf culture, however I am aware that I am somewhat on my own with just how highly I regard Newcastle. Lake Mungo, Van Diemen’s Land and $9.99 are other films that I wish had picked up at least a couple of nominations each but they are all niche films and their absence is hardly surprising.

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David Lurie (John Malkovich) and Lucy (Jessica Haines) in Disgrace

The real shock this year is the complete lack of nominations for Disgrace. While it is a film I had issues with (although I am increasingly realising that was exactly the point) I am still very surprised not to see it represented at all. It is an acclaimed film, technically very impressive, it contains strong performances and it is adapted from a well-renowned novel. So what went wrong? Perhaps it was too challenging and confronting. This is an unlikely explanation considering the number of nominations for other ‘challenging and confronting’ films such as Balibo, Samson and Delilah, Mary and Max, Blessed and Beautiful Kate. Maybe Disgrace wasn’t considered Australian enough (which is reasonable) and didn’t attract votes as a result (which is not so reasonable). Again, if that was the case then how do we explain the large number of nominations for Mao’s Last Dancer? I honestly have no brilliant explanation but the complete exclusion of Disgrace is the only significant sour note in the nominations this year.

Hopefully I’ll get the chance to discuss each category in more detail closer to the 2009 Samsung Mobile AFI Awards Ceremony on Saturday 12 December and I’ll also then mention the mostly brilliant feature length documentaries, short fiction films and animated shorts that have been nominated this year.

In the meantime, below is a personally ranked list of all the feature films that were eligible for nomination:

✭✭✭✭✭
Balibo
(Robert Connolly, 2009) 14 nominations

✭✭✭✭✩
Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009) 11 nominations

✭✭✭✭
Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009) 4 nominations

✭✭✭✩
Disgrace (Steve Jacobs, 2008)
Newcastle (Dan Castle, 2008)
Lake Mungo (Joel Anderson, 2008) 
Van Diemen’s Land (Jonathan auf der Heide, 2009)
$9.99 (Tatia Rosenthal, 2008)
Cedar Boys (Serhat Caradee, 2009) 1 nomination
The View from Greenhaven (Kenn MacRae and Simon MacRae, 2008)

✭✭✭
Blessed (Ana Kokkinos, 2009) 4 nominations
My Year Without Sex (Sarah Watt, 2009) 2 nominations
The Combination (David Field, 2009)
Beautiful Kate (Rachel Ward, 2009) 10 nominations
Australia (Baz Luhrmann, 2008) 6 nominations
Dying Breed (Jody Dwyer, 2008)

✭✭✩
Last Ride (Glendyn Ivin, 2009) 2 nominations
Charlie & Boots (Dean Murphy, 2009)
Two Fists, One Heart (Shawn Seet, 2008)
Mao’s Last Dancer (Bruce Beresford, 2009) 9 nominations
Stone Bros. (Richard Frankland, 2009)

✭✭
Lucky Country
(Kriv Stenders, 2009) 1 nomination
Closed for Winter (James Bogle, 2009)

✭✩
Under a Red Moon (Leigh Sheehan, 2008)


Beautiful (Dean O’Flaherty, 2009)


Sweet Marshall (Eva Acharya, 2009)

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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Film review – Disgrace (2008)

18 June 2009
David Lurie (John Malkovich)

David Lurie (John Malkovich)

J. M. Coetzee’s widely acclaimed and awarded 1999 novel Disgrace is a bleak and provocative examination of the uncertain political climate in post Apartheid South Africa. This film adaptation, an Australian co-production, is directed by Steve Jacobs and written by Anna Maria Monticelli (who previously worked together on La spagnola, 2001) and it has already been generally praised for its faithfulness to the original book. Indeed, this is a powerful film that explores issues of race, gender, sexuality and power in order to make a very bleak commentary on the state of things in South Africa. The film opens with an extended prologue where English professor David Lurie is asked to resign after he seduces one of his students. Lurie takes refuge on the farm his daughter owns but his entire attitude towards life is turned in on itself after he and his daughter are brutally assaulted.

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