The 2019 Brisbane International Film Festival launched on Thursday night (3 October) with a glittering gala party at the Gallery Of Modern Art. Complete with red carpet, film industry veterans and a snap-happy paparazzi, the opening night event had a truly international feel.
This year the opening night spot was given to actor/writer Mirrah Foulkes who makes her film directorial debut with ‘Judy And Punch’.
Dubbed a feminist revenge movie, Foulkes has taken characters from the 350-year-old seaside puppet show (on which this film is based) and given it a modern makeover – despite it being set in the 17th century.
In this dark and fantastical production, the action takes place in Seaside, a small nondescript village miles from no where – including the sea. Surrounded by mountains and a forest, the isolated hamlet is home to some very strange people who happily stone women suspected of being witches. This mob mentality has forced the town’s misfits and oddballs to seek refuge in the woods where they live in relative safety – until things get seriously weird.
Each night Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and Punch (Damon Herriman) entertain the locals with their marionette show, and although they make a few coins, Punch aspires to escape the town and take their show on the road to stardom. The only thing standing in their way is the elusive ‘big break’ and Punch himself who has a drinking problem.
On the surface, Judy and Punch appear almost normal with the protagonists seemingly a happy and contented couple with a newborn baby. But it doesn’t take long before you start seeing cracks in their relationship. Behind the façade lurks mental illness, physical abuse, addiction, adultery and ultimately attempted murder.
In this deftly-scripted film Foulkes has turned the ancient puppetry story on its head and made it topical by introducing themes of domestic violence, witch hunts, vigilantism, mob rule, populist leadership and feminist power.
Each of her characters come with complex issues and it is to Foulkes’ credit that she has managed to flesh them out and given them believable personalities despite the outlandish structure of the film. While Foulkes sometimes resorts to using a blunt instrument for effect (both literally and figuratively) she manages to balance the underlying menace with scenes that evoke sympathy for the persecuted.
For her first outing, Foulkes has assembled an impressive cast and crew which includes many women. The cinematography, lighting and soundtrack are all outstanding as are the costumes by Edie Kurzer. The casting (by Kirsty McGregor) is masterful and she has given Foulkes a generous pool of talent to work with. Josephine Ford’s production design also adds quality to the film and her attention to detail is impressive. Given the film was shot in rural Victoria it is quite an achievement to reset the English countryside quite so convincingly.
'Judy And Punch' won’t be to everyone’s liking but there’s every chance it will mark Mirrah Foulkes as a director of great promise and Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman as outstanding actors.
Brisbane International Film Festival runs until 13 October.