Saturday, August 16, 2008

Head On + Q&A

Life's full of little surprises. I was riding to ACMI on my motorcycle in the cold drizzle wondering whether I would regret the effort to see a Greek romantic comedy by Christine Crokos called Bang-Bang Wedding! (Gamilio Party) featuring Australia's own Alex Dimitriades. ACMI's description (removed from their website):

Unclassified 18+, Christine Crokos, 89 mins, Greece, 2008, 35mm, Greek with English subtitles

In what must be something of a first, Alex Dimitriades returns to his parents' homeland (Greece) for this light-hearted romantic comedy.
Dimitriades and versatile Greek actress and rising star Faye Xila are a young couple about to be married only to discover that a printing error in the invitation sends their guests all over the picturesque island of Crete. It's a fun ride all the way to the altar. Australian premiere!

Unbeknownst to moi, the film was replaced by the film that really put Dimitriades on the map, 1998's Head On. And silly me, though I receive ACMI's email newsletter, I hadn't read that the film was being replaced. Would I have gone, had I known? I don't know. I had seen the film previously, but not on the big screen. By jeepers, I'm glad I did see it, on the medium it should be seen. And furthermore, both Dimitriades and director Ana Kokkinos were on hand for a Q&A session after the film.

What is it about Greek-Australian film directors? Kokkinos and Alkinos Tsilimidos (my favourite Australian director) both are drawn to edgy film-making that is rare in this country. While Kokkinos' most recent film, The Book of Revelation, attracted mixed reactions (and I have reservations about it myself), I admired the fact it took risks in a risk-averse climate.

Head On remains one of my favourite local films, and stacks up admirably alongside world cinema. The film tackles universal issues such as migrant alienation, as did the recent renowned films, The Edge of Heaven (about Turkish migrants in Germany) and The Secret of the Grain (Tunisian migrants in France). Of course, Head On is about more than just migrant assimilation and alientation. Sure, it tackles the clash of cultures, and does it so well. It captures with brutal honesty, the authenticity of the intergenerational conflict. On the one hand you have the idealistic and hard-working older generation and on the other the complacent younger generation who don't understand the long past struggles of their parents and grandparents.

There are many observational ethnic details, evidenced at the film's opening, when Dimitriades' Ari drops the fake wedding flowers from his lapel onto the ground. Interspersed is an uplifting sense of humour that reflects the idiosyncracies of Greek migrants in this country (and this city specifically). It reminded me of the underlying truth in the humour of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, though this film is no throw-away comedy. This is hard-hitting and confronting social drama. Ari is a rebel without a cause, rejecting his family's orthodoxies but unable to accept the norms of the society he is born into. And he's gay, even if he doesn't admit it to himself.

The migrant family's structure and chemistry was depicted with much authenticity. The device of ethnic music and dance both contrasted and complemented the initially heavy use of popular music that set a frenetic pace and tone to the film.

There are various implicit gay sex scenes that are potentially confronting for a conventional audience. The skill with which these scenes are written, filmed and edited are perhaps one of the main reasons this film succeeds so well, for otherwise it could alienate an audience from its wider themes.

Dimitriades has a rugged beauty that the camera captures wonderfully. I asked Kokkinos if the many close-ups was to create a sense of claustrophobia or to highlight the story from Ari's perspective and she replied that it was both. His performance is really quite remarkable, and I mentioned to him that though this may seem a back-handed compliment, it's the best performance I've seen from him. Kokkinos agreed wholeheartedly.

Dimitriades really has the spotlight in Head On, but he is also backed up with an excellent supporting cast. Ari's family and friends, and the small-part players like the police are all excellent, though a special mention must go to Paul Capsis for his portrayal as a transvestite. Capsis is a terrific female impersonator/singer, but in the film he also shows excellent range as a serious actor.

I asked Kokkinos why films like this aren't being made today. She replied that this is a complex subject and I don't think the question was satisfactorily answered.

There was only a small turnout for the event, particularly considering there was a Q&A. Perhaps this was because the event was not sufficiently advertised.

I confess that migrant alienation is a theme particularly close to my heart, but this film is important for more than just its excellent handling of this theme. It's a film that has confidently and maturely tackled a number of confronting and challenging issues with such a sense of underlying honesty and authenticity, with a great deal of humour and sense of humanity. I love it.


richardwatts said...

Damn - I wish I'd known this was on. I would have loved to see HEAD ON on the big screen again, and especially to have sat in on the Q+A. Christos Tsiolkas, who wrote the novel on which it's based, is an old friend of mine, which gives me some insights into the movie, but to have the opportunity to ask questions first hand of Anna and Alex would have been fascinating.

Paul Martin said...

Richard, I sometimes find cinephilia a lonesome experience. You get a rare opportunity to see amazing cinema on the big screen with a scant audience. You only have to walk down the road to say, Melbourne Central, and each of the dozen cinemas has ten times the number of people watching throw-away meaningless popcorn movies.

On top of that, we get to hear from the horses' mouth about the film. Too bad you didn't make it. Too bad ACMI didn't promote it effectively.

I feel for the film-makers, those daring savants who take so many risks to get their profound ideas onto the screen, but then struggle to reach an audience. I suppose that's the way it always has been and always will be.

ACMI said...

The second screening of Head On with the Q&A was an additional screening, as Bang Bang Wedding was unavailable to screen, and as Alex and Anna became available the Q&A was a serendipitous addition.
ACMI did screen Head On on 9th August, on the film's 10th anniversary, and this was in our What's On Calendar, published in July. In fact, we held a little mini-Dimitriades festival to celebrate the 10th anniversary.

Paul Martin said...

Thanks 'ACMI' for the clarification. I was aware that there was an earlier screening of Head On, which was adequately advertised. I suppose when there's unforeseen circumstances, there's not much you can do. And it was a special treat for those of us who knew or (like me) stumbled into the Q&A by sheer good luck. It was generous of Dimitriades and Kokkinos to agree to a Q&A that wasn't fully advertised.