Australian films shine in Toronto

07 September, 2014 by Don Groves

The Australian films premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival are getting a fair bit of love from critics, and the occasional brickbat.

Josh Lawson’s The Little Death, Tony Ayres Cut Snake and director Sotiris Dounoukos’ French-shot short A Single Body have been warmly received.

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Lawson’s sex comedy, his feature directing debut, which opens on September 25 via eOne, was hailed by Twitch Film’s Kwenton Bellette as a “cheeky cracking Australian comedy that is filled with amazing chemistry, hilarious moments and clever exchanges. It is well worth your time.”

Of the writer/director/star Bellette observed, “His goofiness on screen and well-mannered presence has permeated execrable dross from Australia and made it watchable. His painful turn as Doug, the loser partner in Showtime's black comedy series House of Lies, is probably the face he is most known for, but The Little Death is his directorial debut, and will be his defining success to date.”

The Moveable Feast’s Los Angeles-based Stephen Saito, who caught the film before the Toronto screenings, described it as “a wildly amusing sex farce built out of a series of loosely interconnected vignettes, each revolving around a certain fetish.”

Saito concluded, “What will likely make The Little Death more resonant is how organically funny it is, smuggling in bits of truth about the ways we hide our true selves from one another amidst a sea of well-conceived and executed comic set-ups.”

Ion Cinema Nicholas Bell’s found plenty to admire in Ayres’ Cute Snake, the 1974-set crime drama starring Sullivan Stapleton, Alex Russell and Jessica De Gouw, which eOne will launch next year.

“With a little luck, Australian director Tony Ayres’ latest film, Cut Snake will evolve beyond the festival circuit, unlike his accomplished 2007 drama The Home Song Stories with Joan Chen, which still remains unavailable in the US, “ Bell opined.

“A period piece neo-noir, Ayres and screenwriter Blake Ayshford take a familiar premise down a surprisingly knotty path that makes for an intriguing and apprehensively sweaty yarn….. The arresting parts of Cut Snake have little to do with the wayward drama motivating the narrative, which is simply the skin it lives in, covering a darker, more treacherous interior.”

The Film Stage’s Brian Roan declared, “It is an uncomplicated story – a man with a past struggling to leave it all behind and make a new life when suddenly the past catches up with him – and Cut Snake doesn’t try to dress it up with too many other baubles. As such, the plot of the film can feel a little threadbare to those just looking for a crime yarn. However, beneath this veneer of simplicity is a deeper emotional tale that really begins to scratch and gnaw its way out of the strictures of its plotting.

“Pommie is a spectacular cinematic invention, and as acted by Stapleton he becomes the true center of this film. The dynamic between the two men – one a silent pretty boy and the other a bruising thug – has been played out in films before, but both Stapleton and Russell add silent shading to their characters that serves the emotional core of the story well."

We Got this Covered’s Sam Woolf praised Stapleton’s performance but was unimpressed by De Gouw, lamented the lack of tension and described elements of the plot as a carbon copy of previous crime stories.

“Cut Snake backs away from the gem of an idea that could have made it great, but Stapleton never stops digging into James for the surprising amount of pathos he’s eventually worth,” he said.

The review by Toronto-based blogger Courtney Small of Cinema Axis of A Single Body, a 19-minute film about two abattoir workers whose friendship is sorely tested by a new employee, was an unqualified rave.

“Showing confidence in both his cast and his own ability, Australian director Sotiris Dounoukos conjures up a truly moving and powerful contemplation on the fragility of human connection and the forces of nature that impact it,” she said.

“A Single Body is a visually striking drama that captures that inexplicable void between grief and happiness that can only be accessed through tragedy. With two previous shorts already under his belt, A Single Body cements Sotiris Dounoukos as a director to keep an eye on in the future.”

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