After being a little disappointed by Sion Sono’s Cold Fish, I was hoping I would enjoy Guilty of Romance a bit more and thankfully I did. The story of a repressed and obedient housewife being drawn into prostitution contains an interesting examination of sexual taboos, picking up from ideas explored by Luis Buñuel in Belle de Jour and Catherine Breillat in Romance. Sono himself explored similar ground very playfully in Love Exposure. Sono’s wicked sense of humour still runs throughout Guilty of Romance, but there are also literary references to Franz Kafka’s The Castle, a murder that would not have been out of place in Se7en and a whole lot of sex. The scene where the newly sexually-liberated housewife stands naked in front of a mirror and effectively reinvents herself, as she has imagined conversations with customers, is like the porn version of Taxi Driver. In a good way.
I also caught the latest film by Aki Kaurismäki yesterday and concluded that I’m simply not on this director’s wavelength. Le Havre is certainly a very well crafted film with a strongly humanist story, playing out a bit like a light-hearted version of Philippe Lioret‘s Welcome. While I admire Kaurismäki as a director who has a distinctive style that he remains true to, I find that it keeps me too much at arm’s length the whole time even though there is much about his films comparable to those by two of my favourite directors Jim Jarmusch and Jacques Tati. Maybe the issue is that while I like droll, minimalist and deadpan, I struggle with them when they occur all at once. The scene with Little Bob was pretty fantastic though.
The story of Saartjie Baartman, an African woman who was taken to Europe in 1810 and displayed like a wild animal at a freak show, is an unconditionally appalling story. Black Venus tells Baartman’s tale, beginning in London and then moving to Paris where she was increasingly exploited and violated, even after she had died. While I hated watching this film because of its content, I appreciated it for bringing to light such a cruel example of colonialism at its worst. The film also plays on issues of film spectatorship and voyeurism by uncomfortably showing us Baartman’s ‘performances’ from the perspective of the audiences in the film, but in contrast we also see the looks of pain, anger and sorrow in her eyes. The film also acknowledges the complicated situation where Baartman was seemingly a willing participant, at least initially, and that attempts to make her act illegal did little to directly help her. The problem of focusing on the legality of the act rather than directly supporting the participant certainly offers an interesting critique on contemporary attitudes towards the sex industry. Perhaps overlong and perhaps too increasingly a catalogue of horrors, I was still impressed and very upset by Black Venus.
For the second time during the festival, I fell asleep for the duration of a film so therefore can’t really comment on it or count it as a film I’ve seen. The film was Innocent Saturday and the people sitting either side of me did later inform me that it maybe wasn’t a bad one to sleep through. All I can remember is that it began with a handheld camera following a guy who looked like a Russian Joseph Gordon-Levitt running a lot, then he seemed to be intensely playing the drums for a long time and then he was telling me to wake up because I had to be on air in five minutes. So clearly some of that didn’t actually appear in the film.
I also would like to relay a MIFFhap from my Plato’s Cave cohost Josh Nelson (whom I profiled in Part 3 of my MIFF blog-a-thon). Coming home from a long day of seeing mostly foreign language films at MIFF, Josh had a moment on a tram where he was genuinely confused as to why the French couple sitting opposite him were having a conversation that was not subtitled.
Show us your MIFF
For years the Sydney film critics have taken part in a Sydney Film Festival poll, which I always thought was a great idea. Julian Buckeridge from AtTheCinema is now doing something similar for the Melbourne critics so keep an eye out for the MIFF critics poll over the next week or so. Meanwhile, in between studying Film and Television Studies at Monash University and thinking about making his own films, Julian has been seeing plenty of stuff at MIFF with Tomboy and The King of Comedy being his two highlights so far. After being somewhat underwhelmed by Submarine, he’s now most looking forward to Melancholia and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. He recommends avoiding five film days and lots of splashing your face with water to stay awake. That would have come in handy last year when he saw the late night session of the four and a half hour long The Movie Orgy; his best MIFF experience to date. His biggest MIFFhap was not realising a couple of films had swapped cinema and sitting through 20 minutes of the wrong film until it dawned on him that the film he was supposed to be seeing was Korean and the one he was watching was in English. Julian’s all-time favourite film often changes but Dazed and Confused is consistently at the top with Hackers and The Red Shoes somewhere in the mix too.