Words – Kate Forsyth

Photos – J Forsyth

Melbourne International Film Festival – Being Venice, ACMI, Federation Square, Saturday 11 August 2012

Boyfriend: “Katie, here is a list of five thousand films I’d like to see at MIFF this year.”

Me: “Sure, sure. I’ll go see anything, as long as it’s not at Greater Union because I hate that ugly carpet, and not on late cos I get tired. And it has to be at ACMI or The Forum because I like those places. Other than that, I’m easy OK, honey?”

BF: “Um, sure sweetie. I’m on it.”

So feeling like a very unglamorous Jennifer Lopez-style diva with all my demands, we settled on Australian film Being Venice at ACMI, starting at the respectable time of half past six on a Saturday night.

And may I say that being a demandsome diva actually paid off, because not only did I see an actor while waiting to get into the cinema (Catherine McClements who currently plays excellent hardass Superintendent Kerry Armstrong in Rush) but the film’s writer and director, Miro Bilbrough was on hand and spoke to ACMI’s packed cinema number two. Calling herself a lapsed New Zealander, Miro described her first feature film as a love letter to Sydney.

I’ve been to Sydney twice, once as a five year old where my most vivid memory is of the Sydney Tower, where I excitedly bought a pencil case shaped like a giant pencil. On my second visit early this year, I found out the same tower no longer does tower branded souvenirs. Oh how times have changed.

Thus, I was keenly interested in how one would portray their love for a city that I equate with novelty pencil cases.
On the downside, with the writer-director present, I knew we were in for a dreaded Q&A. And with the film being Miro’s debut feature, you can imagine the serious, mature-age-student type questions that we would be in for. But more on that later.
The film began with a black screen and the unmistakeable sounds of a lady getting her rocks off. A minute or more passed before the projectionist popped out to tell us that they were ‘having trouble getting the picture up’.

The crowd tittered, then it was time for take two. Horny noises but this time with images too. The title character, Venice (played by Alice McConnell) was ‘pleasuring’ herself on the couch in her somewhat shabby, vintage style apartment. Wearing a 60s shift dress and looking both beautiful and ‘a bit washed out’ as my mother would say, her character, along with the apartment’s décor and the images of Sydney throughout the film, all came across to me similarly; part beautiful, part washed out and a little exhausted.

This suited the story line perfectly, and I’m sure this was not by accident.
Venice is a poet, depicted only by way of her noting short phrases on post it notes throughout the film. Her ex-hippie father, Arthur, is coming to stay with her in her studio apartment. The first night, Venice awkwardly tucks Arthur into her bed, and heads to her boyfriend’s place where he promptly dumps her while they’re in bed sans clothes, citing how she ‘just lays there’. In one quick scene, the boyfriend is positioned as a jerk-off, and Venice exits to her friend Lenny’s (played by Simon Stone) house. Lenny lives with his girlfriend, so when Venice embarks on an affair with Lenny while his girlfriend is in the room, it’s clear Venice is damaged, lost and unstable.

We see parts of the affair and parts of Venice trying to have some sort of familial relationship with her dad, played really well by Garry McDonald. He’s a pain in the ass; a selfish turd if you will. And while it became evident early that Venice is not OK, the reasons are not clear, but her relationship with her dad is strained at best and we begin to see the reasons she is a bit mental.

Now, having never written a film review before, I decided it best to Google a previous review of the film. The first one I came across gave it a pasting, but I disagree. Sure, I am no film buff or cinema expert with any knowledge of narrative or argument about the pros and cons of writer-directors vs having a writer and a director, but I do know that I really enjoyed this film for its gentle beauty and because Venice wasn’t spilled out in the first two minutes with the remainder of the film acting as an explanation.

Instead, she is slowly unveiled and we see a build up of what makes people who they are, and act the way they do. It terrifically showed how beautiful and exhausting life can be.

In my internet research, I also read that an Australian screenwriter lamented that Australia is too pleasant a place to be able to produce really strong drama. Surely, not all films can or want to be The Hurt Locker. Surely, the reason film festivals like MIFF are growing in popularity and success is because movies from around the world show their extremely varied viewpoints. Surely, that Australia is a ‘pleasant place’ should not mean that a drama about how a troubled start to life sticks, even if that trouble is not rape and murder, is not a success.

Frankly, movies often bore me. Perhaps I am a movie whisperer, but I can usually tell what is going to happen to whom and why. Being Venice was a lovely, gentle unravelling story that I really enjoyed and I absolutely recommend.
I’d like it noted for the record, however, that Venice and her dad are meant to be Kiwis but neither of them once dropped a vowel. Disappointing.

Now back to that post-screening Q&A. I desperately wanted to stay for research purposes but I just could not do it for fear I would scoff at some pretentious statement maker. You’ll note I did not say question asker because rarely are they.
For the film’s release information, click here. Good day.