One of the films I was most intrigued about this year was The Turin Horse and as I expected, during the screening there was a steady flow of walk-outs, but there were also many people in the audience who like me were transfixed. No doubt many will comment on how closely The Turin Horse resembles the very funny spoof Polish film with Geoffrey Rush that is used as one of the MIFF trailers this year. There is certainly a monotony to The Turin Horse as it depicts the repetitive and stark day-to-day existence of two peasants in 1889. You get to know every crack on the wall of their small house and become very familiar with their daily routine. Yet, this film invites the eye to continually explore the cinema screen and your patience is constantly rewarded with moments of visual brilliance. The framing, lighting and composition are masterful, and the use of long takes from the omnipresent roving camera generates an extraordinary energy. If it weren’t for the debacle in the actual cinema during the final twenty minutes (more about that below) this would have been close to my favourite MIFF experience this year.
The other challenging feature film I saw yesterday was Good Bye. The tight cinematography and dominance of blacks, blues and deep greens convey the bleak and oppressive situation facing a woman in Iran who is pregnant, forbidden to work and trying to leave the country now that her husband has fled. The film consists of several long static shots where little happens and what does happen occurs off-screen. This will frustrate some viewers, but it effectively conveys the idea of her life being constantly restricted by external forces beyond her control. I found this a difficult film to sit through at times but it’s stayed with me. Before Good Bye began, we were treated to Jafar Panahi’s short film The Accordion, a simple and touching film about forgiveness and kindness.
I started yesterday by taking myself right out of my comfort zone to see Fire in Babylon, despite having little interest in sport, especially not cricket. It was a good move as this entertaining documentary engagingly conveys the political implications behind the rise of the West Indies cricket team in the 1970s, as well as bringing the game alive to the extent that I actually got excited about it. The session I attended contained a much different audience to what I was used to at MIFF as the people sitting around me were clearly cricket fans as opposed to cinephiles. This greatly enhanced the experience as I got an insight into the collective pleasure involved in following sport. I was impressed with how well the crowd responded to a film where the Australian cricket team, along with the English, were effectively the antagonists of the film. Clearly a love for seeing the game played so brilliantly by the West Indies transcends national loyalties. I think cricket may be something I could get into after all.
[EDIT 15/9/2011: Read a full review of Fire in Babylon]
I saw Beginners after hearing from some people that it was too twee and from others that it was funny and moving. I kind of agree with both points of view to be honest. On the one hand, the father/son relationship told in flashback is very impressive and effectively develops the film’s theme of letting go of baggage to stop denying your true nature in order to finally start living life. Unfortunately, the other component of the film is a romance where the female object-of-desire character is the clichéd slightly quirky it-girl whose main presence in the film is to facilitate the male lead’s self-discovery. There are plenty of sweet moments where I overlooked the blatant use of such a well worn trope, but at other times it was, well, a bit twee.
Finally, I saw the films in the Experimental Shorts 2 program yesterday. The session began with Slave Ship, which while more like video art certainly benefited from being seen from beginning until end to watch it’s gradual impressionist transformations. Ken Jacobs’s Another Occupation was next and while a critique of military colonialism, I was taken by how techniques such as video loops, freeze frames and negative exposure conveyed the impression of things being burnt into your mind despite seeing them only fleetingly. The sound design and very ultra-rapid editing in Carpet Burn made carpet fibres almost appear like a stop-motion organic wave, while the grainy landscapes and lone figure in Disquiet recalled Ivan Sen’s feature Dreamland from last year’s festival. The rhythmic sound and image editing in Endeavour pleasingly delivered a visceral sensation of a space shuttle in flight, while the fragmented composite images of train platforms in Tokyo – Ebisu created a collective experience of waiting for a train. The eternal mysteriousness and fearful fascination of outer-space is conveyed in … These Blazeing Starrs! through contrasting medieval illustrations of comets with eerie footage from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. However, the best was saved until last with Stardust by Nicolas Provost, whose Long Live The New Flesh won the Best Experimental Short Film at MIFF last year. Provost has taken footage filmed in Las Vegas of staff, visitors and a handful of celebrities, including some of the last footage of Dennis Hopper, and assembled that footage to create a crime thriller. Dialogue from films such as Heat and Die Hard is laid over the top along with music excerpts from films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, to transform Vegas into an alien landscape filled with mystery and intrigue. A wonderful pastiche and parody of crime films where Provost draws attention to how film style manipulates audience expectations, while still being completely engaging.
By now it should be clear that I’ve been using this part of my blog posts to relay silly anecdotes about myself or random members of the public during the festival. For today’s post I was planning on getting a bit philosophical to discuss the nature of boredom and if anybody (including myself) really ever has the right to declare a film boring simply because they don’t personally connect with it. Instead, after what happened during last night’s screening of The Turin Horse, I am going to have to get my rant on and ask, ‘What the hell is going on with the projection at the Forum?’
All throughout the festival this year films screened at the Forum have had various problems such as sound loss, being out of focus or not being framed correctly. Last night’s screening of The Turin Horse was the last straw for me. It was either the last or second last reel that began with the top half of the screen missing and once that was fixed some of the house lights then came on. For the remainder of the film, various lights came on and off – often with a strobe effect – as whoever was in charge tried to figure out what switch did what. Often the screen was lit up so we couldn’t see the actual film. I’m not sure who is to blame – certainly not the volunteers who are the unpaid lifeblood of the festival and often unfairly in the firing line – but surely there must be somebody at the venue qualified to fix issues like this.
I am upset over having the end of the Turin Horse ruined for me as I was really looking forward to it and had been completely invested in it until all this stuff happened. It really isn’t the sort of film where you can re-watch just the last twenty minutes to find out what happened since the film is a mood piece that you need to commit to in its entirety. Very disappointing.
Show us your MIFF
I met Daniel Newfield after the second screening of Tomboy, where we both wanted to gush to somebody about how much we loved it. It was his highlight from the festival so far, but he was still very much looking forward to Beginners and the Mary Stephen Editing Masterclass. Daniel’s advice on how to best enjoy MIFF is to get as much rest as possible prior to each screening since there is nothing worse than falling asleep during a film, especially when it’s one you are really enjoying. In fact, he did have the unfortunate MIFFhap of nodding off during The Guard despite really loving it. Daniel has just started out working as film editor and will soon begin working as an assistant editor at a post-production firm. A sample of his work can be found at http://vimeo.com/newfield. When pressed, he lists Requiem for a Dream as his favourite film and also loves anything that David Fincher touches.