Sunday, 19 April 2009

The Dish (2000) (SIFF 2009)

My first film selection from the Singapore International Film Festival for this year, The Dish is a charming and laid-back Australian comedy set during the moon landings.

Yes, those were great times, when people felt the potential of mankind was limitless and were inspired to greatness, seeing all the records of spaceflight broken. For the first time in decades, people had something to be proud of - first man in flight, first dog in space, first unmanned module to make it in space - as opposed to the dismal firsts of a few decades ago - first global war, first deployment of a thermonuclear explosion on a civilian population... you get the idea.

When Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, it felt great to be human. It felt better to be an American. Everyone else just lived vicariously through the snowy television footage. Unless they were Australians, who were somewhere between vicarious second-hand pride and actual pride, since they provided the titular dish that transmitted the footage from Apollo 11 to the rest of the world.

Of course, this mixture of provincialism and the curse of being aware of one's second banana status doesn't go unacknowledged in this comedy; the disasters and comic situations that happen in the movie all revolve around Australia's second banana and provincial status. It helps that the producers of The Dish are the comedians behind the Jetlag travel guides to fictitious countries - the comedy is light without being lightweight, the social and political observations cutting without cutting it.

The Dish owes a huge debt to Japanese film and in particular, the situation room drama. Most of the action in the movie occurs in the control room of the satellite receiver, and the writers must have made a detailed study of the entire genre, pouring the right amount of personalities, conflicts, and minor disasters and triumphs into the mix. All the characters in this film - from its avowedly apolitical mayor to its mailman - are endearingly and eccentrically drawn in the style of Japanese small-town dramas and comedies. Even the feel of being second banana, without the expectations of bristling angst and wounded pride, is almost what you'd get in a Japanese film with an international plot.

Like I said, the debt owed is huge. But The Dish is probably one of the best and well-balanced control room dramas there is.

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