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Friday, August 11, 2006

Perth Premiere of Murali K. Thalluri's '2:37'

Two days ago, right after I discovered this joyous event, I attended the Perth premiere of an Australian film called 2:37 at Leederville's Luna Theaters with Kelly and Agnes. I was eager to attend it because director Murali K. Thalluri (a bloke same age as I) would be there for a Q and A session hosted by my teacher of last semester's Directing Actors class, Annie Murtagh Monks (who innovated this rehearsing tool for actors called the Visual Thought Learning method that I wrote about here).

First, the film summary (via IMDB because I am a lazy bastard, but at least I'm filling in the names of cast members, make sure to correct me if you find any errors):

A contemporary, ensemble drama telling the complex tale of six high school students whose lives are interwoven with situations that so many of today's youth are faced with. The story takes place during a normal school day. At precisely 2:37 a tragedy will occur, affecting the lives of a group of students and their teachers. As the story unfolds, the individual stories of the six teenagers are revealed, each with its own explosive significance. An unwanted pregnancy unravels a terrible, dark secret of Melody's (Teresa Palmer); all is not as it appears for the seemingly confident school football hero, Luke (Sam Harris); an outcast, Steven (Charles Baird) must deal with everyday taunts from his peers; a beautiful young girl (Marni Spillane) battles an eating disorder; a stellar student, Marcus, (Frank Sweet) constantly struggles to win his parents' approval; while another, Sean (Joel Mackenzie), uses drugs to escape from his own demons. 2:37 is a thought-provoking cinematic journey that is at once beautiful, devastating, passionate, bold, controversial, unforgettable and above all, humane.

So the film has multiple substories going on, some events shown twice, albeit from a different perspective. Then there are interviews with the characters that intercut with the film's storyline that are shot in black and white, allowing us to see their motivations, backgrounds and inner thoughts in more detail. And they are definitely REALLY tormented characters. I mean, take 'Uneven' Steven for example, dude's grown with three uteruses, so he pisses all the time without being able to control it, and then there's Sean, who just came out of the closet, but was poked fun of by asshole homophobic classmates who probably hated Brokeback Mountain and Lance Bass (seriously, Lance Bass-dissing is an asshole thing to do, the guy's the voice of Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts, man!) too. And worst of all, Sean is practically living in the plot of Brokeback Mountain, the man he cannot quit (I won't reveal whom he is, but most would've been able to guess it early in the film) having a girlfriend and denying his own homosexuality.

It's compelling stuff, to see so many hardcore events occurring in a high school, to see a high school filled with so many douchebags. It's like Neighbours with an edge. And that's not a bad thing, because Neighbours is cool. Soap operas are so underrated. Ahhh, I still remember my high school days when everything's so peaceful and uneventful, and all I could angst about was, well, homeworks, feuding with school authorities for the English club I was running, and high school crushes who ignore my advances.

(Kelly: I don't think this is supposed to be soap opera. It's more like hardcore real life drama.)


Ah man, I'm rambling already. But yeap, the film is interesting and engaging because it's more or less about guessing the identity of the student who committed suicide at the beginning of the film. Where all six characters' lives turning into hell, it's increasingly likely that any one of them could've committed suicide (or unlikely, if you're smart enough to know that this film wouldn't be THAT generic, and a TWIST has to be there to surprise everyone).

In fact, I was hoping that it was a mass suicide like something from a Mishima Yukio story. But alas, that didn't happen.

I even thought that there'll be something insaner, like, some creature from another dimension had just popped out in the toilet and killed the student. And the entire film would then turn into a glory splatterfest where EVERYONE IN SCHOOL gets eaten, and the entire Australia vanished after a nuclear explosion caused by the creature's fart.

That didn't happen either.

There's a twist (or a cheat, depending on your view). And I'm not going to spoil it. (but if you're desperate for spoilers, just go read Michelle Wheeler's review)

Anyway, it's an enjoyable film, more engaging than many Australian films I've seen thus far. The suicide scene has lots of blood splattering around. Whoa.

No, I've not seen Gus Van Sant's Elephant, which this film had allegedly borrowed heavily from, but I can definitely say that this film is really incredible for its slickness. Despite being an indie film (Murali K. Thalluri managed to raise $1.1 million dollars for the film, not from the unsupportive government funding bodies, mind you, but from the richest people of Adelaide that he and his co-producer visited) this film has the aesthetic qualities and feel of a studio film.

In fact, this film does not even have the rawness we usually see from debut directors attempting their first feature films. The kind of rawness we see in Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Rodriguez's El Mariachi, Kevin Smith's Clerks, Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotapes, Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket, Nolan's The Following or Aronofsky's Pi.

Murali K. Thalluri's story and his making of this film is filled with drama that's worthy enough to inspire a film of its own. A victim of a really brutal street attack in his hometown (which caused Kelly and I to cringe when he described it during the Q and A session), Adelaide, he was beaten up by group of youths with knives and broken bottles, leaving him near death, stabbed in the right eye, and even though it recovered, he cannot see anything out of it anymore.

A high school friend of his took her own life, after sending a video to him describing her intentions. He wrote the film as a tribute to her, and also to save his own life. Because six months after his friend's death, he attempted suicide too because he was depressed. Girlfriend broke up with him, medical problems got more serious. Thankfully, the painkillers and alcohol did not kill him, and when he regained the ability to work again, he wrote the first draft of 2:37 in 36 hours, never venturing out of his room.

Losing his original sound guy (who went off to make Ten Canoes, another Aussie film), the resourceful Murali K. Thalluri attempted to get, in his opinion, the best sound guy in the world, Leslie Shatz, who had worked with Coppola and all Gus Van Sant films. Contacting 30 reporters who had interviewed Shatz, Murali K. Thalluri managed to reach Shatz, and then got Shatz into helping him.

And inspired by Catch Me If You Can (not sure whether it was the book written by Frank Abagnale Jr., or that Steven Spielberg film starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hanks), Murali also pulled an Abagnale (or pulled a Leo?) by forging fake certificates and getting a teaching job in some acting school in order to spot talent. It was where he managed to discover Teresa Palmer (chick who played poor pregnant Melody) and Clementine Mellor (chick who played a character called Kelly who had my friend Kelly gasping in surprise).

And in the end, the film was made. Then shown in the Cannes Film Festival for its world premiere. Not just a gifted writer, director and producer, but also an expert negotiator and a real-life James Bond (infiltrating in an acting school, genius.) The Australian film industry, long dormant until last year, had finally found its hero, its Chosen One. I'm sure he will serve as an inspiration to aspiring filmmakers throughout Australia. Here are some of his very invaluable philosophies that many can learn from.

Murali K. Thalluri speaks to The Great Swifty

Its Chosen One has spoken. Film schools around the world shall quiver with fear.

Disclaimer: Murali pics and quotes taken from IF Magazine (my favourite filmmaking magazine!) and Esoteric Rabbit Blog (via Energiser Bunny). Gorgeous Great Swifty pics taken from The Great Swifty himself.)

View 2:37 trailer: