MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 16

This is my second last MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon entry as I’ll do a final wrap-up post in a day or two. Cinema Autopsy will then go back to the usual format of film reviews with the occasional article or interview. But for now, here are my thoughts on what I saw on the final day of the festival:

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Martha Marcy May Marlene

The more I think and talk about Martha Marcy May Marlene, the more I am appreciating it as an extremely well-crafted and powerful piece of American Gothic cinema. Despite my initial reaction just after seeing it, it’s so much more than a film that says cults are bad as it explores the way emotionally vulnerable people can be seduced by New Age or religious rhetoric. It also draws a curious comparison to the type of cult the film depicts with the ‘cult’ of capitalist materialism. The editing is astonishing, deliberately blurring the time periods depicted in the film so that the recent past continually bleeds into the present, representing the lingering psychological damage done to the protagonist. The final scene is the most chillingly and suggestive since The Boys.

After seeing the brilliant documentary Bastardy a couple of years ago, I’ve been looking forward to seeing filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s next feature documentary, Ben Lee: Catch My Disease. I’ve never been into Lee’s music, but I really like Courtin-Wilson’s almost impressionist approach to documentary filmmaking, where montage tells the subject’s story just as much as talking-head interviews. At first, Ben Lee: Catch My Disease is a curious companion piece to Bobby Fischer Against the World since they are both films about young men who peaked at an extremely young age and trod on a lot of feet as a result. The best parts of Courtin-Wilson’s film are Lee’s introspective thoughts on fame, self-obsession and craving adoration. However, the film does struggle to maintain interest towards the end when Lee stops being interesting and instead spends time in India discovering Hinduism, which even he acknowledges is a rock and roll cliché.

There’s a fascinating science-fiction idea behind Another Earth, but it’s largely under-explored as the film is really a drama about guilt, forgiveness and redemption. It’s a stylistically low-fi film seemingly not out of necessity, but what appears to me to be a deliberate aesthetic choice to embrace low lighting, drained colours, snap zooms, handheld camera movements and very conventionally unconventional framing. I know that a lot of people have got a lot more out of Another Earth than I did, but it was too self-consciously indi for me.


Fortunately, I did end the festival on a high note with the satirical, darkly funny and excessively violent Super. While I really liked Kick-Ass, it did abandon its premise of an everyday guy becoming a costumed vigilante, which is the same premise of Super but continued throughout the entire film. Super also explores the idea that the kind of person who would be drawn into adopting such a superhero alter-ego, would most likely be somebody with a tenuous grasp of reality and an inclination towards violence. The crude simplicity of the film’s ‘hero’ being armed with a brain-bludgeoning wrench instead of any powers or skills is hilarious, shocking and disturbing especially once he starts applying his brutal version of justice on people who have simply offended him. Throughout Super the audience are challenged to re-evaluate their attitudes to onscreen violence as the reality and the harsh consequences of the scenario constantly creeps back in. The sources of the bloodlust under the guise of justice includes revenge, an almost sexual desire for brutality and a very selective ethical high-ground, making Super an extremely provocative commentary on the collective American psyche towards resolving conflict with violence. Funny, confronting, smart and transgressive, Super was a great final film to see at MIFF.

I think I’ve exhausted my pile of rants and silly anecdotes for this year, so I thought I’d leave you with a classic MIFFhap from 1995 when I attended MIFF for the very first time. I only saw three films, but they were all fantastic: Burnt by the Sun, Ed Wood and Jan Švankmajer’s Faust. This was in the day when sessions were held at the Astor Theatre and as I had just received my driver’s licence, I drove there to book my three tickets. On the way back home I wanted to turn right from Chapel Street to drive down Dandenong Road away from the city. I somehow turned too sharply and ended up on the tram tracks in the middle of Dandenong Road, one of the few stretches of tram tracks in Melbourne that are distinctively separated from cars. I drove down the tracks for about 500 metres until I saw a gap in the trees along the embanked nature reserve between the tram tracks and road, drove up onto it and merged onto Dandenong Road from the raised reserve.

A couple of months later I locked my keys in the same car while running to a session at the Astor that I was late for. I left the keys in the ignition. With the car still running. I mostly cycle these days.

Show us your MIFF
The final person for me to profile this year has not only been working at MIFF throughout the year as an intern, but is also the youngest person (I think) to be profiled, making her representative of the next generation of MIFF lovers whether she likes it or not. She is Kendal Coombs and while not volunteering at MIFF she writes the Department of Youth column for Inpress Magazine. Her highlights during this year’s festival have been Submarine and Super but also The Guard, which was a surprise as she only saw it because she wanted to see Stephen Fry’s short film Bunce that screened before it. Her all-time favourite films are Une Femme est une femme, Viva Las Vegas and Night on Earth. Her favourite MIFF experience is possibly also her biggest MIFFhap: in 2008, on a recommendation from a friend, she went on a first date to see Bruce LaBruce’s Otto; Or, Up with Dead People knowing nothing about the film. She figured that if her and her date could get through the awkwardness of seeing such a film on their first date, then they could handle pretty much anything and indeed, they are still together today.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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