Archive for October, 2012

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My MIFF 2012

October 15, 2012

This is spectacularly overdue. Needless to say, I’m so removed from this year’s MIFF I can’t gather many thoughts to make this an interesting recap. Though it amuses me that some of the best films were concerned with foreigners in a strange country, including: aptly, In Another Country; Paradise: Love; Berberian Sound Studio. Similarly, Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami trekked to Japan to make his latest, entirely in Japanese. The pivotal turning point of a relationship occurs for the American couple of The Loneliest Planet whilst backpacking in Georgia. And there’s Low Life‘s illegal immigrants, fugitives in a land more fascist than strange. In the same vein, colonialism was the subject of a few films: Tabu‘s lost paradise, Palaces of Pity (abstractly), Almayer’s Folly, Neighbouring Sounds. Conversely, many dealt with the home, with self-made bubbles mostly penetrated by the inevitable: Amour; Back to Stay; Beasts of the Southern Wild; Ben Rivers’ hermit; Neighbouring Sounds‘ gated middle class community; the runaways’ short-lived and treasured Moonrise Kingdom; the enclosing dark feelings of Our Children‘s mother; and playing parallel outside MIFF, Robert Pattinson and his sound-proof limo. Conversely again, the men of Caesar Must Die transcend their literal prison through art. Paradises/islands and borders—perhaps the stuff of movies every year.

What else? Perhaps the two most tedious screenings this year were political, with Larraín’s whiter-than-usual humour going a long way to combat that in No. A trend most pleasing for this cinephile was opening titles: the serif fonts of Tabu, Laurence Anyways, and Southern Wild; the incongruous, low-rent movie throwback credit sequences of Berberian and Miss Lovely; Wes Anderson’s egregious swirly text at the very edges of the mighty self-reflexive thematic set-up to Moonrise; and The Legend of Kaspar Hauser‘s colossal, techno-supported letters. Two later releases eclipsed any of these for my money: Resident Evil: Retribution‘s slow-reverse-motion music video titles, and the severed, schizo first few minutes of Killing Them Softly. Well, I’ll take a break from lazily listing movies to provide some thoughts I’d jotted down during the actual festival, and then back to lazy listing—apparently the sole purpose of this blog.

Sister borrows the boy lead from Loach’s Sweet Sixteen, possibly tipping its hat as the films share a narrative focus on a wayward lad not given the maternal love he deserves (for the amount he so readily devotes). As it turns out, it’s the kind of love at play in Sister which results in dysfunction, not merely a lack of reciprocation. Said dysfunction is treated intelligently by Meier, coming to a sympathetic but unsentimental climax that makes sense of its more literal title The Child From on High. Denis’ DP Agnès Godard and Meier work in a very direct rhythm of static images wherein the snow’s blinding white meets the bright colours of cars and skiing attire. One of those festival gems. Gillian Anderson is still unfathomably gorgeous.

Moonrise Kingdom was predictably the most charming thing ever and he’s never been so meta. Perhaps the most personal and yet the least moving Wes effort (it doesn’t matter). Actually, I almost teared up in two instances of just Edward Norton’s face, but still. Wes’ fastidiousness once again extends to actual character traits, perhaps the most significant example of that. Compositions, bric-à-brac, and colour design to die for. Of course I loved it.

Wasn’t sure about Amour at first but it accumulates and holds you in its deliberate pace. While most of it is the hard, piecemeal quotidian ailment and resultant care (truly effective as cinema, for the diminished physical and communicative capabilities are witnessed in their abnormality by us and her life love), a subtle thread of intrusion permeates and renders the hermetic apartment a symbol of ??—man’s and love’s general denial of inevitable death, which figuratively breaks in discreetly and later much less discreetly, a “carrier pigeon” he decides to let go and ultimately go with (echoing The Seventh Continent)? The daughter naturally seems to occupy the same space and fate at the close. Even at the more social, less metaphorical level, intrusions range from bitchy, incompetent nurses and fussy relatives (Certified Copy‘s William Shimell out of nowhere, and yet considering Haneke’s musical tastes…) and a former pupil who has eclipsed her work and whose CD plays while her body is no longer able to.

Back to Stay is so attuned to mysterious emotions and the physical acts that radiate from them. So it’s quietly fascinating to watch the three girls cohabiting their grandmother’s house, each barring the other two from discreet feelings and spaces assigned ruminative importance, or else fussing over more trivial and selfish material concerns. A long take of the sisters singing together on a couch is very touching. I see my cousins in these girls; it’s very well-observed indeed.

In Another Country is Hong Sang-soo through and through. Framing device sets up three short stories, pleasures are derived from the refracted repetitions, the stubborn concurrences. It’s a meta work in that even the young woman who diegetically writes the stories possesses the auteurist preoccupations of the Hong we know, including his knack for assigning a character in each film the profession of filmmaker! A termite work about termite work, I suppose. I hope we get a Hong a year until he dies. Huppert isn’t merely serviceable, she’s magnetic and a wise inclusion on Hong’s behalf at this stage in his oeuvre. The lifeguard is an adorable creation.

Tabu is a more palatable limited released than I had assumed, especially come its second (and better) part, a very beautiful and old-fashioned love story. The “content” if you will does not fascinate like that of Beloved Month‘s aqueous authorship and reality, rather it’s Gomes’ exquisite form that captivates: stunning black and white photography and titlecards; an eschewing of spoken words in favour of nature sounds and dual narration. In retrospect the first part seems curiously long, at least in its attention to Pilar. Another viewing may enlighten its and her significance.

In the Company of Eric Rohmer is exactly what the title suggests: hanging out with as opposed to thoroughly and seriously analysing the life and work of Rohmer. It’s very refreshing and personable, filled with little neurotic bits of business captured by Rivière’s DV cam and wisely not cut out for the sake of professionalism Rivière unabashedly does not possess. Extremely lovely.

I don’t even know what to say about Palaces of Pity, apparently a parable of sorts. With both it and The Legend of Kaspar Hauser, I abandoned any analytical tendencies and gave in to the absurdity, and was rewarded by both. Their absurdism is starkly different, however. Pity commits to its bold strokes (Forever Young at a drawling speed, two gay Moors who can seemingly teleport…) with an unsettling earnestness, while Kaspar Hauser is slightly more on-the-nose, more endearingly oddball with its house-music-loving western/alien freaks. Both possess very vague narratives transcended by cinematic potency.

In her Wiseman-brand documentary Normal School, Murga occasionally gazes at a redheaded female student amongst a majority of Argentines, looking to find the racial discrimination she subtly threaded into her fictional A Week Alone. She possibly discovers it, in part: The girl is referred to merely as “The Redhead” with casual contempt by one of the more confident students in one overheard moment, and Murga lingers on a shot of the girl quietly looking out a window with only her iPod to keep her company. But she also shows this same girl enjoying a whispered joke with a male friend. Without interviews, this is as far the film digs into such an issue, a microcosm amongst microcosms that vaguely look to the generation’s future–the results mostly positive for the students’ engagement shown, with hints of human messiness spread throughout the film. It’s a small film wise enough to only approach the complexity of the educational system.

Amiel Courtin-Wilson cited Brakhage, Michael Mann, Cassavetes, and Tobe Hooper as influences on Hail. Indeed all are present. An emotional hypothetical of a real-life love. Harrowing stuff, and not fashionably so as with so many Oz pics.
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Dark Horse uses irony more fruitfully and ambiguously than we’ve seen of Solondz previously. A relatively ordinary character study, interrupted by unsignposted daydreams (as in Hong Sang-soo), soon becomes an almost Buñuelian tapestry of said dreams, culminating with one that possibly shatters the entire narrative up to that point. As such, it recalls Synecdoche, New York‘s invisible narrator. The Neil Labute-penned short in front of it was awful.
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I attended 41 actual screenings (bolded), 3 of which were shorts attached to features (italicised). The greyed out entries are those that played at MIFF this year but which I’d already seen externally. The ranking:
  1. Correspondencia Jonas Mekas – J.L. Guerin (2011, Mekas/Guerin)
  2. Holy Motors (2012, Carax)
  3. For Love’s Sake (2012, Miike)
  4. Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Anderson)
  5. Tabu (2012, Gomes)
  6. Paradise: Love (2012, Seidl)
  7. In Another Country (2012, Hong)
  8. Barbara (2012, Petzold)
  9. The Loneliest Planet (2011, Loktev)
  10. Caesar Must Die (2012, Taviani/Taviani)
  11. Faust (2011, Sokurov)
  12. That Summer (2011, Garrel)
  13. No (2012, Larraín)
  14. Like Someone in Love (2012, Kiarostami)
  15. Student (2012, Omirbayev)
  16. Back to Stay (2011, Mumenthaler)
  17. Sleepless Night (2011, Jardin)
  18. Damsels in Distress (2011, Stillman)
  19. Neighbouring Sounds (2012, Filho)
  20. Palaces of Pity (2011, Abrantes/Schmidt)
  21. Hail (2011, Courtin-Wilson)
  22. Bestiaire (2012, Côté)
  23. Policeman (2011, Lapid)
  24. Amour (2012, Haneke)
  25. Wuthering Heights (2011, Arnold)
  26. Berberian Sound Studio (2012, Strickland)
  27. Low Life (2011, Klotz/Perceval)
  28. In the Company of Eric Rohmer (2010, Rivière)
  29. Laurence Anyways (2012, Dolan)
  30. The Legend of Kaspar Hauser (2012, Manuli)
  31. Sister (2012, Meier)
  32. Farewell, My Queen (2012, Jacquot)
  33. Almayer’s Folly (2011, Akerman)
  34. Rampart (2011, Moverman)
  35. Whores’ Glory (2010, Glawogger)
  36. Snow Canon (2011, Diop)
  37. Two Years at Sea (2011, Rivers)
  38. I Wish (2011, Kore-eda)
  39. Normal School (2012, Murga)
  40. Keep the Lights On (2012, Sachs)
  41. A Simple Life (2011, Hui)
  42. Dark Horse (2011, Solondz)
  43. Alps (2011, Lanthimos)
  44. Miss Bala (2011, Naranjo)
  45. The Hunt (2012, Vinterberg)
  46. 11/25: The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate (2012, Wakamatsu)
  47. Miss Lovely (2012, Ahluwalia)
  48. Las Acacias (2011, Giorgelli)
  49. The Student (2011, Mitre)
  50. Beyond the Hills (2012, Mungiu)
  51. V/H/S (2012, West/Swanberg et al)
  52. Our Children (2012, Lafosse)
  53. In the Fog (2012, Loznitsa)
  54. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012, Zeitlin)
  55. The Cricket (2011, Lorenzi)
  56. Double or Nothing (2011, Krause)

I have not included the retro titles that I have previously seen which are: Boy Meets Girl, Bad Blood, Lovers on the Bridge, Pola X, Falkenberg Farewell, Harold and Maude, Modern Romance, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Three-Sided Mirror. And I’ve still a few I want to catch up with: War Witch, Postcards from the Zoo, Just the Wind, the Chinese documentaries, The Imposter, The House I Live In, the restored We Can’t Go Home Again, ParaNorman, Killer Joe.

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Man of Aran (Flaherty, 1934)

October 15, 2012

Long before the Iranian masters and a dozen others of the early 21st century, Robert J. Flaherty hired non-actors to reenact their own lives in their own habitats, blurring the distinctions between fiction and documentary. Man of Aran, however, collected locals into a fictional family, which was told to carry out quotidian actions for the camera not necessarily familiar to any of its faux-members (and in the case of the shark hunting, no longer even practiced by anyone in the area). The result is something beyond even mere fiction, a timeless narrative forged from ostensibly natural images and sounds emphasising an eternal struggle between Aran man and the sea -or further yet, as with The Turin Horse with which it shares a fair amount though not its desolate finalisation, between Man and life itself. Though admittedly rather inert, the entire final sequence works to articulate this. And as he looks out reverently at the sea after it has chewed up and spat out the bones of his boat, we gauge the Man’s quiet fear and respect. Other pictures of seaside perseverance come to mind: Shindô’s The Naked Island, the Marxist La Terra Trema to a lesser extent, and the newly-restored Araya, which looked comparatively like a capitalist assembly line with its hundreds of fastidious beach labourers. But it’s almost Fordian the way Flaherty props his figures against tremendous skies in silhouette, immortalising them. Likewise, the horizon line here is uniformly high or low: looming skies, enveloping waters. In editing too the film poeticises the perennial. The capturing of the shark is a furious montage of fragmented images: ropes are pulled various ways, indiscernible men’s limbs puncture the frame, the shark’s tail whips the boat unceasingly… it’s in their shot-to-shot disconnectedness and repetition that the sequence becomes majestic. In a much more simple example, the wife and mother gazes at the son at her side, out the window impossibly to her husband off toiling in his boat which the film cuts to, and back to son -a miniscule moment that summons a well of woman’s indwelling concern. An unspoken daily grief she bears with beautiful strength.

December 2011

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My September ’12 in Film

October 1, 2012

A very strong month, September was. But then, any month with both a Fuller and an Ozu viewing would be. Several of the films I’d consider top-tier works for their respective directors, particularly Paul W.S. Anderson’s latest and most idiosyncratic entry into his Resident Evil series (which I saw twice). Trends are clear to map and are sure to continue: a sudden interest in Russian and Soviet cinema, with the latter providing several gems (the listed plus a Kuleshov), and the former (totalling Peremirie and The Hunter) a pair of chores; further exploration of the Berlin School; a Mankiewicz trilogy with No Way Out also solid; a flirtation with 90s pulpy throwbacks; and more Europa Corp. titles that ranged from intriguing if conceited/baffling (Guy Ritchie’s Revolver) to mediocre (the original Taxi, Unleashed) to dire (Hitman). I believe I’ve hit a wall with Besson’s productions. Otherwise September was all over the place, and wonderfully so. 75 total.

The top 25:

  1. Run of the Arrow (1957, Fuller)
  2. The End of Summer (1961, Ozu)
  3. Resident Evil: Retribution (2012, Anderson, 3D)
  4. Dragonwyck (1946, Mankiewicz)
    A Letter to Three Wives (1949, Mankiewicz)
  5. Hotel America (1981, Téchiné)
  6. Charleston Parade (1927, Renoir)
  7. Chess Fever (1925, Pudovkin & Shpikovsky)
  8. Strait of Hunger (1965, Uchida)
  9. Black Widow (1987, Rafelson)
  10. Outskirts (1933, Barnet)
    Alyonka (1961, Barnet)
  11. Darkman (1990, Raimi)
  12. The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short (1966, Delvaux)
  13. Niagara (1953, Hathaway)
  14. The War Game (1965, Watkins)
  15. They Made Me a Fugitive (1947, Cavalcanti)
  16. Final Accord (1936, Sirk)
  17. Bleeder (1999, Refn)
  18. Undisputed II: Last Man Standing (2006, Florentine)
  19. Audrey the Trainwreck (2010, Ross)
  20. Ghosts (2005, Petzold)
  21. The Days Between (2001, Speth)
  22. The Shadow (1994, Mulcahy)
  23. Meanwhile (2011, Hartley)
  24. Lore (2012, Shortland)
  25. Motorway (2012, Cheang)
    *

Get to Know Your Rabbit is clearly lesser De Palma, but by the end it reveals a point, one of the exploited/capitalised fringe business/individual which De Palma renders unthinking/autonomous. The manager isn’t a villain greedily out to suck the magician for all he’s worth by mass producing him, it’s just inevitable. This makes sense of that bizarre Bunuelian moment when we see the same couple in the adjacent apartments having roughly the same argument. The magician is initially “up against the wall” and is set off, like the bomb in the building, from the dehumanising and tedious corporate work; he ventures into something small and new and rewarding and has time for love, before it’s built up around him, leading to that Kafkaesque sequence in which virtually no one in his building recognises their own maker; he’s back where he started and he makes himself disappear again, but rather than ouroboros, De Palma places faith in humble work and in family. All this treads the same things he was looking at at this time, in Phantom and Hi Mom! etc. It’s one of his least visually exciting movies, but there are some tricks in the apartment that rock, like the overhead pan anticipating Snake Eyes.

Vibrator was pretty refreshing. Personally speaking in that I needed a human drama not so tied to societal dynamics, and in general for its highly subjective/stream of consciousness approach that adeptly expresses the girl’s feelings. The latter made it watchable. Some of the more lingering moments concerning the travelling and the radio particulars didn’t fascinate me so much. And some of the songs blegh.

Watkin’s The War Game anticipates all the faux-doc horror stuff of recent years and is truly hilarious in a stony-faced kinda way. Also horrifying.

Loved Techine’s Hotel America. Never seen him so cinematic, a change of pace from his more literary 90s epics. The use of the four common colours was consistently pleasurable. Frequently stunning in general. Form blah blah blah, but the portraiting of a half-dozen beach town denizens and their fickle or yearning hearts comes together so tenderly.

Strait of Hunger was really good. Generous narratively, and quite modernist in its bulk shifts of protagonist and ellipses (both ultimately work towards clouding Mikuni’s actions/identity, and some ambiguity remains come the End titlecard). Social-historical factors aren’t ignored but wisely figure into the background of the drama and procedural, even informing it in abstract ways. After all, Mikuni’s poverty leads to crime (at the very least his taking the money, though his story about the ex-cons brawling on the boat seems far-fetched), and his empathy for Yae leads to his downfall. I’ve not seen a film that better resembles Fincher’s Zodiac, itself an epic procedural that does not forfeit character despite a teeming plot. Some crude camera movement, long takes, sparing close-ups, and at least one nifty crane pan; but this is more of a solid rather than striking film stylistically. The emboss effect signalling moments of searing emotion or visions of the imagination (it wasn’t consistent) was just ugly, though effective. All this said, I don’t see myself watching it again.

Undisputed II: Last Man Standing, fantastic. Florentine is major. The difference in quality between the mess of confusion that is Walter Hill’s original, and this punchy, crystal-clear sequel is night and day.

Insiang. Kinda neo-realist in that it’s really just melodrama. And then there’s a murder Hitchcockian in visual design, and it flirts with rape-revenge schlock popular at the time, to boot. So it’s a strange hybrid of slum life observation and more vulgar bents, but there’s enough to the characters to sustain it. I dig that Brocka finds positive and negative traits in every character, eventually. Pretty good.

Compelled to mention:

  • The Glass Bottom Boat (1966, Tashlin)
  • Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972, De Palma)
  • Hotel Sorrento (1995, Franklin)
  • Chelsea Girls (1966, Warhol & Morrissey)
  • Kanto Wanderer (1963, Suzuki)
  • Stir of Echoes (1999, Koepp)
  • Catwoman (2004, Pitof) Fun; its feminism underrated.
  • Red Hill (2010, Hughes) Poor entertainment; engaging allegorically.
  • Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987, Mailer) Unfathomable, astonishing.

Best rewatches:

  • Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Anderson)
  • Resident Evil: Retribution (2012, Anderson, 3D)
  • Panic Room (2002, Fincher)

Worst:

  • Legend (1985, Scott) die die die die die die die
  • Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987, Mailer)
  • Hitman (2007, Gens)