This is my last diary entry for the Melbourne International Film Festival before seeing my final film for the festival Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which I will write up in full in the next few days once Cinema Autopsy has reverted back to its usual format. I had intended to see a couple more films today but after having had a rather good time at the Closing Night party last night that did not happen!
The Israeli film Lebanon is about a tank unit during the first few days of Israel’s war with Lebanon in 1982. The main point of interest is that the film is set entirely from within the tank, with the shots of the conflict outside being all via the tank’s gunsight. The incredible sound-design and claustrophobic cinematography certainly convey the intensity of the experience for the young soldiers. The film also operates as a reasonably effective anti-war film, highlighting the death-by-remote aspect of modern warfare. However, some of the scenes depicting the brutality of war verge on the exploitive and diminish their power. Lebanon also relies a little too heavily on some very conventional war film clichés.
One of the most frustrating films I’ve seen at the festival is the Mexican film (with an Australian director) Leap Year. For at least two thirds of the film, its purpose seems to be to capture the everyday existence of an unremarkable life by making a film that is completely mundane – it’s not exactly riveting cinema. Towards the end of the film it becomes apparent that the subject of the film, a woman who lives alone in an apartment that we never see her leave, is actually very damaged and we get some confronting sadomasochistic daddy-issue sex but it’s still ultimately all a bit tedious.
On the other hand, Alamar demonstrates that films depicting everyday life with next to no narrative can be extraordinarily rewarding when those lives are actually of interest and completely removed from the audience’s frame of reference. I was more than happy to watch a Mayan man, living on a coral reef off the coast of Mexico, spend time with his son. The way of life presented in Alamar is a harmonious one based on living off the sea and the relationship between the father and his son is very touching. This ethnographic docu/drama is a very simple film but completely engaging and life-affirming.
The Iranian film The Hunter is one of those films that I strongly believe would have worked as a 20 to 30 minute short film. It’s about an ex-prisoner who snaps after his wife is killed in a police shoot out and his daughter goes missing. Most of the film is an unnecessarily dull, detached and emotionally distant build up to the final more interesting aspects of the film. Even then, the protagonist becomes so completely unsympathetic that I simply did not care what happened to him.
The final 2010 MIFF film I’ll give a mini-review to is the closing night film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. A high energy biopic of Ian Dury, it was certainly a fun film to close the festival with. However, I was overall a little bit frustrated that the film never really gave me a more substantial picture of who Dury was and his musical significance. The film briefly mentions that his style of music and performance was a sort of unacknowledged precursor to punk but I would have liked a lot more cultural context. The very Brechtian approach of having Dury narrate his life from a stage in an abandoned theatre strongly recalls Bronson (from MIFF last year) but it did not work nearly as effectively. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Andy Serkis’s performance as Dury especially in the later stages of the film where it calmed down stylistically enough for Dury’s larger-than-life persona to speak for itself.