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A Journey with Paul Cox

This intelligent profile of Australian-Dutch filmmaker Paul Cox wisely allows the subject to reveal himself, partly via the reading of excerpts from his unpublished autobiography, "Reflections," and partly through on-camera musings and well-chosen clips from several films. Result should be a natural to accompany potential Cox retrospectives at fests and on TV, where the rich career of this maverick filmmaker can be seen in new light. Photographed puffing on his beloved pipe and in mellow mood, Cox talks of his childhood memories in Venlo, the Netherlands, during World War II, and of his closeness to his mother, whose brief spell of blindness when he was a teenager inspired one of his most interesting films, "Cactus" (1986).

But Cox claims his film career really started when “Man of Flowers” (1983) was chosen for Cannes and he saw it on the bigscreen for the first time. He went on to make films about divorce (“My First Wife,” 1984), obsession (“Golden Braid,” 1990) and old age (“A Woman’s Tale,” 1991). But just as his first features are omitted, so, too, are his three most recent films, which have been less successful at the Australian box office but which contain plenty of potent material worth exploring.

Discussing the politics of his personal filmmaking, Cox avers that “it’s political to make a film about reality — reality doesn’t sell.” He suggests that, were Ingmar Bergman starting his career today, his angst-ridden films would never find favor with today’s cynical audiences, who, he claims, “want things fast and painless.” He evidently identifies strongly with the hero of one of his most acclaimed films, “Vincent” (1987); in his letters, Van Gogh pondered the perils of public opinion: “How does one become mediocre? By compromising.” The filmmaker also rails against producer interference in a director’s work.

Cox reveals his belated discovery that his father had been a filmmaker in the ’30s, and a brief clip from the 1936 Dutch production “Levensgang” shows that Wim Cox had just as sharp a visual eye as his son.

So much of this well-made documentary fascinates that the viewer is left wanting more — crucially, information about Cox’s working methods with his regular team of actors, a stock company that includes Norman Kaye, Chris Haywood, Wendy Hughes and Gosia Dobrowolska, all of them seen to great advantage in the well-selected clips.

In every other respect, this well-handled profile will serve as an excellent introduction to Cox for audiences unfamiliar with his work, and will please his followers with its insights and dry humor

A Journey with Paul Cox

BELGIAN

Production: An Atom Films/GSARA co-production, with the support of Movie Network, Limelight, BRTN. (International sales: Film Transit, Montreal.) Produced, directed, written by Gerrit Messiaen, Robert Visser

Crew: Camera (color/B&W), Visser, Gert van Kerckhove; sound, Paul Delvoie; associate producer, Roland Schulte. Reviewed at Sydney Film Festival, May 14, 1997. Running time: 55 MIN.

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