MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 4

Day 3 of MIFF, Sunday 24 July, was simply wonderful. I saw five films and loved them all. Let’s get into it:

Surviving Life
Surviving Life

All the years of study I spent reading and writing about psychoanalytic theory and surrealism paid off when I saw Surviving Life. This self-described ‘psychoanalytic comedy’ by the Czech filmmaker and animator Jan Švankmajer  marvellously collapses the boundaries between the dream world and the waking world. While Švankmajer has clearly been a big influence on Terry Gilliam, among others, the cutout photographic animation style in Surviving Life recalls Gilliam’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus animations and the theme of the protagonists finding the ideal woman in his dreams strongly evokes Gilliam’s Brazil. Nevertheless, this is a distinctively Švankmajer film and possibly his most accessible feature film to date. I particularly loved the scenes where portraits of Freud and Jung get into a fight. A fun and inventive film with lots of great visual gags.

I’ve always been fascinated by Harry Belafonte despite knowing very little about him. He’s naturally one of the great American entertainers, particularly because of his singing, but it’s what I heard about his activism that’s always made me want to find out more. Fortunately the documentary Sing Your Song extensively covers Belafonte’s remarkable work in the civil rights movement that continues right up until today. I am now in total awe of the man. As well as featuring his humanitarian work, Sing Your Song also chronicles Belafonte’s career and how he used his celebrity status to become a force of progressive change. He’s clearly a passionate and inspirational man and this film channels that energy.

[EDIT 18/4/2012: Read a full review of Sing Your Song]

Life in a Day
Life in a Day

Screening at MIFF on the one year anniversary of the original filming day on 24 July 2010, Life in a Day is a montage of clips shot by people all over the world who were asked to film something that represented their lives. The resulting film, assembled by Kevin Macdonald from 4,500 hours of footage, uses very effective rhythmic and graphic editing to convey the passing of a single day for people all over the world. A diverse collection of clips are used from very raw amateur footage, exhilarating first person shots and more professionally produced clips. The end result is an effective tribute to humanity, which doesn’t shy away from also reminding us of the pain, cruelty and fear that also exists in the world. Before Life in a Day was screened we were shown We Were Here, which is a similar Australian project but on a much smaller scale and unfortunately with much less diversity in the clips selected.

The second Alex Gibney documentary screening at MIFF this year is Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. It’s a film that makes an excellent companion piece to Inside Job, which also examined the conditions leading up to the GFC, the high class escort agencies connected to the financial elite and the extraordinary measures that the people who profiteer from high level white collar crime will go to in order to protect the system they have created. Gibney makes a very strong case that suggests Spitzer’s sexual misdemeanours received an unprecedented and unusually extreme level of scrutiny, most likely due to his antagonism with Wall Street and some very powerful Republicans.

13 Assassins
13 Assassins

MIFF never quite feels right unless it contains at least one film by the insanely prolific Takashi Miike. This year it has two and I went for 13 Assassins, which compared to some of Miike previous films is relatively tame simply for the reason that it sticks to the conventions of one genre. In this case it is the historical samurai genre, with heavy nods to the films of Akira Kurosawa. After establishing the true evilness of a powerful young lord, 13 Assassins quickly endears us to the samurai who are given the task of killing him. Similar to the structure of Seven Samurai, the first half of 13 Assassins focuses on the recruitment of samurais and their planning while the second half is the lengthy battle where all the tension from the build-up is paid off in full. The action and spectacle in this film is outstanding making it one of Miike’s best films to date.

The audience for 13 Assassins was a lot of fun and included a girl sitting somewhere behind me who clearly felt every thrust of the sword in the film. Her very vocal gasps came during five minute intervals during the slower first half of the film and were then every 15 seconds during the long battle sequence during the second half. The mood was momentarily threatened just after a scene when one of the lead characters meets an untimely demise and some genius of narrative theory decided to share with those of us sitting around him, ‘I saw that coming’. Bravo. Would you like some kind of special merit badge? Then there was the guy sitting in the middle of the fifth row, who stood up during the film to take off his jacket. Apparently disrobing while seated is passé and it’s better to tease the entire cinema with the promise of a strip routine instead.

I should also mention that an article titled ‘Cinephiles buff for marathon’, which appeared in The Sunday Age, includes several quotes from me about the blog-a-thon where I possibly sound a bit too critical about the motivations for seeing heaps of films at the festival. I probably should have put more emphasis on the positive side of this venture, such as mentioning that one of the attractions of seeing so many films is that it is glorious to be so fully immersed in the festival experience. It’s a good way to see films with people who for the most part know how to be respectful to other audience members in a cinema. The final motivation for seeing so many films is the angst that you may miss out on some masterpiece that you’ll never get an opportunity to see again. Melbourne is an amazing city for cinema and the majority of things worth seeing do resurface, but not always and not always in a cinema. I know three of my highlights from MIFF last year, Son of BabylonLourdes and Poetry, still haven’t shown up.

Show us your MIFF
I’ve known Kate McCurdy both professionally and personally for about 18 months now. She’s the Marketing Manager for Sharmill Films and pretty much guaranteed to be at any screening or film-related event that is worth knowing about. Kate is also the biggest Mike Leigh fan that I have ever met. She refuses to single out any of Leigh’s films so instead tells me to put All the President’s Men down as her all-time favourite film. Kate’s seeing 60 films at MIFF this year and is most looking forward to Submarine. Her advice to surviving MIFF is to not be afraid to walk out of a film that you really aren’t enjoying or engaging with. As Sharmill are distributing Le Havre, Kate feels a bit embarrassed about listing it as her favourite film at the festival so far, but she is genuine and I can vouch for her sincerity! Her all time favourite MIFF experience was simply being in the same room as Quentin Tarantino when he was a festival guest in 2009. Her worst MIFFhap was witnessing a brawl in a cinema last year during a screening of I Killed My Mother. Kate has no idea what the brawl was about, but I’m dying to find out.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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  1. Hi Thomas,
    That Sunday Age article was cut dramatically short, unfortunately (a bunch of urgent news stories over the weekend meant that another MIFF feature was cut entirely). The result might sound a bit critical but I can assure readers the next few paragraphs would have put those comments into relief, though you pretty much sum up the rest of the piece well right here.

  2. Hi John

    I thought that may have been the situation. In case there is any doubt, by no means do I have a problem with the article. It was fun to be interviewed for and I thought it turned out great. I certainly said all those things and stand by them.


  3. Great coverage Thomas! I’ve got plans to see Life in a Day and Client 9 later in the festival, and am very much looking forward to seeing them both. I also just got back from the second 13 Assassins screening, and thought it was absolutely terrific. A bit stilted, but tons of great action.

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