I went against my own advice yesterday by seeing four films at MIFF and three of them back-to-back (although the excellent scheduling this year means that you still get decent breaks between most sessions). I saw two very mediative films (one in a good way and one not so much) but also two of the best films I have seen this year making yesterday my best day at MIFF so far.
Lourdes depicts the various rivalries, resentments and jealousies that are bubbling under the surface of an organised pilgrimage group who have gone to Lourdes in the French Pyrenees Mountains. At the centre of the film is Christine, a woman whose Multiple Sclerosis makes her one of the most disadvantaged members of the group. She is played by Sylvie Testud who gives a lovely, understated performance. Lourdes is a slow burning film that rewards patience as it builds up to its very powerful conclusion. I was certainly completely taken aback by how emotional I was feeling during the film’s final five minutes making Lourdes one of my favourites within the festival so far.
The first of yesterday’s two meditative films was Dreamland, the latest by Australian filmmaker Ivan Sen. The screening was introduced by producer David Jowsey who made it clear that the film was not a conventional narrative but more a “no budget”, experimental soundscape to be experienced on a sensory level. This was a very good description as little happens in this film about a man searching, presumably for alien life, in the Nevada desert surrounding the infamous Area 51. Dreamland would have benefited from a shorter running time but within the film are some wonderful sequences using timelapse photography and eerie stock footage. The sound design is magnificent and the one dialogue scene is surprisingly moving. Think the final section of 2001: A Space Odyssey with a touch of Paris, Texas.
While by no means essential viewing at least Dreamland maintained my interest, which is more than I can say for Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, a documentary about the fascination that the Japanese apparently have with insects. The broader cultural, social and historical contexts of this fascination are presented but as Beetle Queen becomes increasingly philosophical it becomes far too laboured and repetitive. There is only so long you can endure listening to haiku and watching Japanese people mucking around with bugs.
The other film I saw yesterday was one I almost skipped so that I could go to a media screening of The Loved Ones (which screened at MIFF last year and is reportedly fantastic). I’m so glad I stayed in the city to instead see Son of Babylon as it is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Set in Iraq in 2003 just after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, a boy and his grandmother search for the boy’s father. The war torn countryside and burning cities they travel through have the same look and feel to them as you’d expect from a post-Apocalypse film. While Son of Babylon contains some very confronting content it doesn’t have the same social-realist, miserablism feel that often characterise so many of the films made in the Middle East. The more devastating aspects of the story are slowly revealed so that their impact is one of deep sadness rather than horror or depression. The characters are also wonderful people and the kindness and shared sorrow that the boy and his grandmother experience from the various people they meet is beautiful. Son of Babylon resonates with a deep and powerful sense of humanity and is a must-see film.