Saturday, May 26, 2007

In conversation with Marton Csokas (Romulus, My Father)

Romanians of the day

Marton Csokas

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Benito Di Fonzo, Sydney Morning Herald.
May 25, 2007

In Romulus, My Father, Marton Csokas (Lord of the Rings, xXx) takes a break from playing elves and villains to assume a role closer to his heart. The son of a Hungarian immigrant plays Hora, the Hungarian voice of hope and sanity opposite Eric Bana's troubled Romanian in Richard Roxburgh's directorial debut.

It's based on philosopher Raimond Gaita's memoirs of the country Victorian shack where his father raised him with the help of Hora. Meanwhile, his German mother (Franka Potente, Run Lola Run) disappears to the city with her lover (Russell Dykstra), who is also Hora's brother. Romulus, My Father encapsulates the seldom-told struggle of the Eastern Europeans who came to Australia after suffering both Nazi and Soviet occupation.

"There are certainly similarities to the stories that my father and friends of the family told me," Csokas says.

"They shared the shock of the new, coming from an old established culture and what it was to arrive in a very foreign land. My father was the only person left in his family, and off he went from 12 years old. The story of Romulus is not dissimilar to that. The boy at the centre of the story, Raimond, has the wisdom of the old world in a burgeoning new land, and that's what struck me as the most wonderful thing about this story."

The film explores how young Gaita (Kodi Smit-McPhee) deals with the tragedy that unfolds in his life as his extended family try to survive and stay sane in rural post-war Australia. This bleakness is balanced by the optimistic Hora, who introduces the future philosopher to the works of Bertrand Russell as they watch the sun set.

"He's the light in the darkness, which is why I loved playing Hora," Csokas says. "He's full of sun and life. I could do with a lot more of Hora in my life."

Romulus, My Father
Directed by Richard Roxburgh
Stars Eric Bana, Marton Csokas, Franka Potente
Rated M. Opens Thursday.
There is a Q&A and screening of the fi lm with Bana at the Cremorne Opheum on Tuesday at 6.30pm.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In conversation with director Denis Dercourt (The Page Turner)

Reprise of revenge

Melanie (Deborah Francois) and Ariane (Catherin Frot) in The Page Turner.

Benito Di Fonzo
May 18, 2007. Sydney Morning Herald.

Hell hath no fury like a child prodigy scorned, or so it would seem in writer and director Denis Dercourt's intelligent psycho-thriller The Page Turner.

Most of us struggle with one career, but 43-year-old Dercourt has excelled in two: writing and directing films while teaching and playing viola in the French Symphony Orchestra.

His latest film, The Page Turner, was selected for Cannes and was the most successful French film in 2006. It tells the story of Melanie, first seen as a talented, precocious child pianist attempting to enter the Conservatorium. When her ego is shattered by examiner and famed pianist Ariane (Catherine Frot) signing an autograph during her audition, she gives up music forever, carrying a chip on her shoulder the size of the Arc de Triomphe.

Fast forward 10 years and fate finds the adult Melanie, played by Deborah Francois and reminiscent of a young Catherine Deneuve, working as a nanny for Ariane, who now suffers performance anxiety due to a hit-and-run accident. Deciding revenge is a dish best served cold, Melanie endears herself to the ageing pianist and becomes her page turner, confidante and indispensable companion.

The subtle build-up to Melanie's revenge, foregoing the obvious avenues, marks The Page Turner as a tour de force in filmmaking, moving with a musical dynamism to its crescendo.

"The main mechanism in classical music is that of the cadenza," Dercourt says, "a tense chord resolving in another chord; tension, resolve, tension, resolve, and often the release of tension is [creating] another tension. It's the same in a film, especially genre film, and I liked writing this film because I hadn't done that before. That was a real discovery for me."

Dercourt's musical background gave him a unique insight into musicians' minds.

"It's a very tiny village, the world of musicians. We are very few, especially at a certain level. Playing music is really difficult, hard work."

Are musicians particularly prone to becoming psychopaths, then?

"Like actors, like painters, like all artists they are more aware of their feelings. Also they must be like sports people - they must be always perfect. You cannot fail when you have a concert, you must be aware of your state of mind."

Who is more dangerous, the child prodigy or the failed musician?

"That's a good question," Dercourt says. "When they both are one single person you have to be very afraid."

The Page Turner
Director Denis Dercourt
Stars Catherine Frot, Deborah Francois
Rated PG. Out now.

In conversation with Adam Hills

Adam Hills: Joymonger

Benito Di Fonzo
May 17, 2007. Sydney Morning Herald.

The Spicks and Specks host is having a car roof moment.

Adam Hill's deliriously positive dial has beamed at us from ABC's Spicks and Specks and stages from Enmore to Edinburgh. His new show, Joymonger, promises more uplifting humour. Someone once said "never trust a man that doesn't drink or is always smiling", so I decided to find Hills's dark side. What makes him angry?

"What makes me really angry is myself," says Hills, "my own shortcomings."

That's just too nice.

"No, I get really shitty at myself - if I forget somebody's birthday I really take it to heart."

Move over, Satan!

"All this 'nice guy of comedy' malarky is never really something I've cultivated," Hills says.

I remind him that his show is called Joymonger.

"Well, there's that," he says. "I was trying to think of something like 'militant joy' or 'joy warrior,' this idea of living in a cynical, jaded and very frustrating world and therefore trying to dance on the roof of my car."

The analogy, Hills says, comes from a friend in Egypt.

"He told me that whenever there was a traffic jam it was so frustrating - 45 degrees, no one could move - people would get out and dance on the roofs of their cars. I liked the fact that purely out of frustration people would dance on their cars, not because everything is great but because everything has turned so bad that the only way to deal with it is to dance on your car."

Is he sure they were dancing, not jumping? "Pretty sure. I believe in putting positive vibes out into the world and when you're frustrated and angry that's when you most need to put positive vibes out."

Joymonger is partly "improvised joy," such as in Edinburgh where Hills conducted a gay wedding, held an impromptu job interview and became godfather to a three-month-old in the front row.

"I like to create something special that audiences are going to remember," Hills says. "It's not about me showing off, it's about making sure they're enjoying themselves and often that entails 20 minutes of chatting with them because I want to get to know them."

Hills will be bringing his sign-language interpreter for Joymonger.

"I did a show in Adelaide a few years ago for a disability art conference and they provided a signer and two things happened. First, deaf people in the audience were connecting with my material, and second, I was getting laughs out of the sign-interpreter because the hearing people were fascinated. Now I have hearing people who will only book [for signer shows.]"

Hills was raised in Sydney's Sutherland Shire, where he had a "pretty happy suburban life, pool in the backyard, cricket on the road ... I was so happy when I was 10, 12 years old, and the rest of my life is trying to recapture that."

Happy despite the fact that he was born without a right foot, something that makes him feel almost lucky as it pushed him to achieve his goal. Hills has been determined to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian since he first heard Victor Borge on a plane at the ripe age of eight.

"That one person was making a room full of people laugh - I liked that idea. [Also] our family used to listen to comedy on holidays; Bill Cosby, Billy Connolly, Peter Sellers. Comedy was something that bonded our family. I like stand-up because it bonds people; again maybe it's me trying to recapture the happy days of being a 10-year-old."

Hills admits he has been driven to anger, such as when he abused a punter in an Adelaide beer garden who attempted to tell him a racist joke.

"I don't deal well with negative energy," he says, "If something bad is going on around me I wither and freeze up or yell at people inside my own head. One of the points of [ Joymonger] is to find a way of dealing with that."

Also, the man who wrote on disability website Ouch! that he feared becoming a "one-legged Anthony Robbins" does worry he takes life too seriously.

"I think a lot of stand-ups take life incredibly seriously; that's why they do stand-up. [So] I wouldn't say I have a dark side, but I certainly take life ridiculously seriously and I need to lighten up."