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CANNES 2000: CHOPPER, RUSSIAN DOLL

Andrew L. Urban's snapshot of two new films being screened to international buyers this week at Cannes: Chopper, based on the real Mark 'Chopper' Read, and Russian Doll, about . . . love in Bondi between unsuspecting adults.

"A criminal failure on a grand level," is how producer Michele Bennett describes Mark 'Chopper' Read, the subject of Chopper, Andrew Dominik's debut feature. Dominik became fascinated by the man who is now living on a Tasmanian farm on the proceeds of autobiographies that make him a best selling writer ("even though I can't spell," he chuckles).

It was his first book in 1993 that captivated Dominik. "There was a paragraph about how he killed 14 people and not regretted it. Then he dreams about his victims appearing to him . . .it seemed to me he had mixed feelings about what he'd done. I'm fascinated by this motiveless crime thing, where it's committed for psychological reasons."

Chopper is a singularly Australian film - not only because of its subject matter but because of the way it manages to tell the story with neither the grating polish of a studio film or the glaring romanticism of a European biopic. Whether buyers will see its market potential remains to be seen. Certainly Eric Bana delivers a character portrait that is all too multi dimensional, and Dominik directs with flair and energy.

In Russian Doll, Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) plays Harvey the PI who is in therapy, David Wenham (The Boys) plays Ethan, the best friend and Natalia Novikova plays Katia, the Russian doll of the title. "We looked everywhere for a Russian and finally found her in Melbourne," says Stavros Kazantzidis, who co-wrote and directs.

His collaborator on the script was a Russian born Australian, Allanah Zitserman, who took Kazantzidis to a Russian club in Sydney's Bondi for her grandfather's 75th birthday - and that was it. The social milieu triggered a writing collaboration in which the two writers abandoned the direction each of their previous scripts were heading and focused on Russian Doll.

At the Russian Roulette Club, the Greek-origin Kazantzidis realised that Russian Jews and Greeks had a lot in common. "They're both food-oriented, expressive, guilt-ridden, gregarious and emotionally volatile cultures," he says. Perfect for a movie.

Both films are represented by Beyond Films, who also represent Mallboy, which screened in Directors Fortnight on May 16, 2000. See our INTERVIEW with Mallboy director Vincent Giarrusso.

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AUSTRALIAN FILM
AT CANNES 2000

CHOPPER:

with Eric Bana, Simon Lyndon, Vince Colosimo, David Field, Dan Wyllie, Bill Young, Kenny Graham, Kate Beahan.

THE STORY:
Mark (eventually nicknamed Chopper) Read (Eric Bana) dreams of making a name for himself as a legendary crime figure. His journey is brutal and bizarre, as he tries in vain to capture that elusive Al Capone quality, having to settle, instead, for a Fawlty Towers version of a standover man. This does not preclude him being violent and sadistic, but it does prevent him reaching the dark heights he seeks to attain. In and out of jail, Chopper is always on edge, and sometimes he can even see the joke himself. But the fact that he is a better selling autobiographical author than crim (and proud of it) is testament to his absurdity.

RUSSIAN DOLL:

with Hugo Weaving, Natalia Novikova, David Wenham, Sacha Horler, Rebecca Frith.

THE STORY:
Harvey (Hugo Weaving) is lonely private investigator currently in therapy. He reluctantly agrees to marry his best friend's mistress, Katia (Natalia Novikova) for technical reasons - his friend Ethan (David Wenham) doesn't want to marry her but doesn't want her deported, either. It's not a success. Some (painful) times go by before the situation resolves itself.







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