MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 12

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Despite being very fatigued yesterday morning I found Once Upon a Time in Anatolia utterly engaging. Focusing on only a small number of characters for the majority of the film, it unfolds as a sort of exterior chamber film with lots of long shots to emphasise how small the characters are in the vast and exposed landscape. The interaction between the police characters, a prosecutor, a doctor and one of the men who has confessed to murdering the person whose body they are looking for, explores issues of guilt, culpability and compassion. There is also a commentary on the tensions between older tribal modes of living and modernity. This is one of the handful of films that I feel the need to see again outside of the festival environment to really appreciate its complexity and layers of meaning.

[EDIT 27/5/2012: Read a full review of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia]

Bruno Dumont’s latest stark piece of French rural miserablism Outside Satan also features characters symbolically wandering around a barren landscape. However, while the pace and mood of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was a case of the form and style being dictated by the film’s content, Outside Satan is a bit like End of Animal where the obtuse style seems to have  come first. It is a difficult yet intriguing film with deliberately strange and ambiguous characters who challenge notions of good and evil, and how we perceive spirituality and madness. At times the leading male character, a sort of avenging angel drifter, reminded me of Martin from the Dennis Potter written telemovie Brimstone and Treacle, whose act of evil results in something good.

Being Elmo
Being Elmo

For a complete change of pace I then went to see Being Elmo, the documentary about puppeteer Kevin Clash. I’ve actually never been a huge fan of the Elmo character, but this very charming film has made me a fan of Clash. It’s a bit of a classic rags-to-riches film that covers Clash’s career, which really began when he was a very young boy with a love for the Muppets that inspired him to create his own puppets and tirelessly work at performing his own characters. Seeing somebody who is so hard working and so genuinely a good person achieve astronomical success is tremendously rewarding and inspiring. There’s a beautiful sense of mutual support from the puppeteer community where veterans seem more than happy to encourage and share trade secrets with newcomers that they recognise as having the same spark that originally motivated them. Also, I will never stop being fascinated by the way puppets come to life and take on a distinct personality even when you can see the puppeteer manipulating and speaking for them. It is something quite magical.

I ended the night seeing Troll Hunter, which was a lot of fun. From The Blair Witch Project to Cloverfield to [Rec], I’ve been a big fan of the fake found footage film, which does seem to work best within the horror and monster genres. Troll Hunter does a couple of things just right. Firstly, the trolls move a bit like stop-motion creations and look like puppets. By not trying to make them look photo realistic, the suspension of belief is actually far easier to maintain. Secondly, the film is full of troll mythology that many of the characters take very seriously, which allows the ridiculousness of the film to be laughed along with and enjoyed without any self conscious winks at the camera. Playing such silliness this straight is quite a challenge and Troll Hunter pulls it off.

I’ve developed a stye on my right eye. If you don’t know what a stye is, it’s like a pimple but it forms on the inside of your eyelid to constantly press into your eyeball. It’s not cool. Mind you, it’s not as uncomfortable as the time a blood vessel burst in that same eye while I was suffering though Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I suspect that occurred as a result of my brain trying to lobotomise itself.

I want to give a shout-out to the guy sitting a few seats down from me during Troll Hunter. So, this is a film called Troll Hunter and I reckon that somewhat gives away the fact that it’s not going to be striving for realism. The film begins by setting up the concept of it being a found footage film, which is clearly all very tongue in cheek. That didn’t prevent this guy from snidely announcing, ‘Yeah, right’ as if he was one step ahead of the game by casting doubt on the authenticity of a film titled Troll Hunter. It reminded me of when I once worked as a shopping centre Santa Claus (I was really broke) and 13-year-old kids thought it was really awesome to inform me that they knew I wasn’t really Santa and I was so busted for trying to convince them otherwise.

Less a MIFFhap, I was part of a rather lovely collective experience during the screening of Being Elmo. There’s a scene where Kevin Clash tells us that he was offered a chance to work on The Dark Crystal and the entire cinema, including me, gasped in delight and excitement. This was immediately followed by us all giggling at the fact that we were all so impressed by the mention of The Dark Crystal. OK, maybe you had to be there but it was dorky, sweet, a communal experience and one of my favourite moments of the festival this year.

Show us your MIFF
If you’ve ever visited Rich on Film then you’ll be familiar with the work of Richard Haridy, a film critic and academic who is currently studying a Masters in Art & Cultural Management at the University of Melbourne. Richard has been coming to MIFF since 1998 where he was treated to a ‘before they were stars’ moment with a screening of Pi with Darren Aronofsky in attendance. This year Richard’s highlights have been Cold Fish, Senna and The Yellow Sea. He had previously seen a number of MIFF films at the Sydney Film Festival so has enjoyed seeing how Melbourne audiences responded to some of those, in particular Martha Marcy May Marlene. He’s still got The Woman to look forward to, which he’s hoping will be as divisive and controversial as it promises to be. His favourite moments from previous festivals both involved films by festival regular  Miike Takashi: Audition in 2000 and Gozu in 2004. Both films featured substantial walkouts and audiences split between those who were vocally disgusted and those who were delighted at the absurdity of what they were seeing. Richard definitely belonged to the latter group (as did I) and found the dramatically contrasting responses to the films’ infamous sequences electric. Richard finds the all-time favourite film question an impossible one to answer, but uses Magnolia as his standard response when asked, despite having a dozen disclaimers as to why.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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  1. I’ve got Once Upon a Time in Anatolia at the end of a five film day on Saturday. Bit worried by the runtime, but your review gives me hope. Same with Troll Hunter which I’m seeing but haven’t been overly enthusiastic about

    I was in the Being Elmo crowd as well, and like everyone else got a real kick out of the Dark Crystal reference and subsequent audience reaction. It was just a nice moment.

  2. I am really enjoying your MIFF Blog; am here from interstate on my own, with no-one to talk about my film experiences to, and am enjoying reading about yours. I also saw Being Elmo last night and loved it. That collective audience moment following mention of The Dark Crystal was magical. Sadly I chose Zebraman 2 over The Troll Hunter. Ah well, maybe it will get a general release … Thanks for your great blog ;-)

  3. I’m glad to see I wasn’t the only one touched by the Dark Crystal moment during the Being Elmo screening. It was a gorgeous thing to be part of.

    And thanks for the kind words!

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