MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Wrap Up

9 August 2011
The Accordion

The Accordion

Spending yesterday catching up on the recently released Hollywood blockbusters Captain America: The First Avenger and Rise of the Planet of the Apes for the Plato’s Cave podcast, really rammed home just how much I appreciate and value the Melbourne International Film Festival. While the films I saw yesterday were OK, the stream of vacuous trailers that screened beforehand demonstrated how bland and dull so much wide-release cinema currently is. (The latest episode of Plato’s Cave with those reviews plus a rant about bad behaviour in the cinema is now online.)

We are truly blessed to have been exposed to so much diverse and challenging cinema at MIFF during the 17 days of the festival, making me come to the conclusion that one of the main purposes of attending such festivals is to experience stuff outside of your comfort zone and frame of reference. The challenging nature of so many of the films screened is essential to the vibrancy of such a festival and if I loved everything that I saw then I’d frankly be concerned. I hope to be mostly beyond the point of being offended or bored by cinema, but I do relish being troubled, perplexed, confused and annoyed as well as being delighted, moved and provoked. So MIFF this year certainly delivered what I think was a rich festival experience.

MIFF 2011 blog-a-thon team

MIFF 2011 blog-a-thon team: Simon Miraudo, Luke Buckmaster, Glenn Dunks, Thomas Caldwell and Jess Lomas. (Not pictured: Brad Nguyen)

I also love the social aspect of MIFF and while I wasn’t as socially active online or in the real world due to committing to the 60 film blog-a-thon challenge, I did love hearing from people who commented here, on Twitter, on Facebook and most especially in person. It was great having strangers, old friends and people I’d only previously encountered online come over to chat about what they’d seen and respond to what I had written. This year there was a real sense of mutual respect and interest in the different ways that people respond to cinema, not to mention a sense of camaraderie that we were taking part in the festival experience together regardless of whether we were seeing 60 films or 10. An extra big shout-out to everybody who allowed me to profile them in my Show us your MIFF spot and to all those who inadvertently provided me with material for my MIFFhaps spots, especially Joel.

So, what about the films themselves? I’ve worked out that I attended 61 sessions, which doesn’t including the two session that I fell asleep during but does include two short film packages. I saw a total of 59 feature films (63 if I include the four I saw in media screenings before the festival) and 16 short films.

My top ten MIFF 2011 feature films:
(not including the retrospective screenings)

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard (Lynn-Maree Milburn and Richard Lowenstein, 2011)
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)
How to Die in Oregon(Peter Richardson, 2011)
The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2011)
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)
Michael (Markus Schleinzer, 2011)
Polisse 
(Maïwenn Le Besco, 2011)
Surviving Life (Přežít svůj život, Jan Švankmajer, 2010)

Tomboy
 (Céline Sciamma, 2011)
The Turin Horse (A torinói ló, Béla Tarr, 2011)

My top five MIFF 2011 short films:

The Accordion (Jafar Panahi, 2010)
All Flowers in Time (Jonathan Caouette, 2010)
Las Palmas (Johannes Nyholm, 2011)
Sophie Lavoie (Anne Émond, 2010)
Stardust (Nicolas Provost, 2010)

And finally, here is the list of all the feature films that I saw. To give you a very general guide of what I thought about them all I have added star ratings, but please don’t take them too seriously! Each title clicks through to my thoughts of those films that I wrote during the festival.

13 Assassins (Jūsannin no Shikaku, Takashi Miike, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
3
(Tom Tyker, 2010) ✭✭✩
Another Earth (Mike Cahill, 2011) ✭✭✩
Armadillo (Janus Metz Pedersen, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard (Lynn-Maree Milburn and Richard Lowenstein, 2011)  ✭✭✭✭
Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (Michael Rapaport, 2011)  ✭✭✭✩
Beauty and the Beast (La belle et la bête, Jean Cocteau, 1946) ✭✭✭✭✩
Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010) ✭✭✭
Being Elmo (Constance Marks, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Ben Lee: Catch my Disease (Amiel Courtin-Wilson, 2011)  ✭✭✭
Black Venus (Vénus noire, Abdellatif Kechiche, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Bobby Fischer Against the World (Liz Garbus, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Boxing Gym (Frederick Wiseman, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (Alex Gibney, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Cold Fish (Tsumetai nettaigyo, Sion Sono, 2010) ✭✭✭
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
End of Animal (Jo Sung-hee, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Eye of the Storm (Fred Schepisi, 2011) reviews embargoed
Fire in Babylon (Stevan Riley, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Give Up Tomorrow (Michael Collins, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Good Bye (Bé omid é didar, Mohammad Rasoulof, 2011) ✭✭✭
The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Guilty of Romance (Koi no tsumi, Sion Sono, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Hobo with a Shotgun (Jason Eisener, 2011) ✭✭
How to Die in Oregon (Peter Richardson, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
I Am Eleven (Genevieve Bailey, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Jane Eyre (Cary Fukunaga, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Jess + Moss (Clay Jeter, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1982) ✭✭✭✭
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki, 2011) ✭✭✭
Life in a Day (Kevin Macdonald, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Magic Trip (Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney, 2011) ✭✭✭
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)  ✭✭✭✭
Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Michael (Markus Schleinzer, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
The Mill and the Cross (Lech Majewski, 2011) ✭✭✭
Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no mori, Tran Anh Hung, 2010) ✭✭✭
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Outside Satan (Hors Satan, Bruno Dumont, 2011) ✭✭✭
Polisse (Maïwenn Le Besco, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Project Nim (James Marsh, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Route Irish (Ken Loach, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Senna (Asif Kapadia, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Silence of Joan (Jeanne captive, Philippe Ramos, 2011) ✭✭
Sing Your Song (Susanne Rostock, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
A Stoker (Kochegar, Alexei Balabanov, 2010) ✭✭
Submarine (Richard Ayoade, 2010) ✭✭✩
Super (James Gunn, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Surviving Life (Přežít svůj život, Jan Švankmajer, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Swell Season (Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis, 2011)  ✭✭✭✩
Tabloid (Errol Morris, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Tatsumi (Eric Khoo, 2011) ✭✭✭
Tomboy (Céline Sciamma, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Toomelah (Ivan Sen, 2011) ✭✭✭
Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren, André Øvredal, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Troubadours (Morgan Neville, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
The Turin Horse (A torinói ló, Béla Tarr, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Under the Hawthorn Tree (Shan zha shu zhi lian, Zhang Yimou, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Unjust (Bu-dang-geo-rae, Ryoo Seung-wan, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Win Win (Thomas McCarthy, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
The Yellow Sea (Hwanghae, Na Hong-jin, 2010) ✭✭✭✭

Thanks again for reading my MIFF 2011 blog-a-thon entries and I hope you continue to check out the reviews and articles that I post here at least twice a week, once things go back to normal. In the meantime, I think I’ll take a few days off from seeing films and look for some paid work!

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 16

8 August 2011

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.

Super

Super

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.

MIFFhaps
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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MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 15

7 August 2011
Drive

Drive

How do you transform a B-grade action/thriller into an ultra stylish neo noir? Give it to director Nicolas Winding Refn to direct apparently. This year’s Closing Night film Drive was an inspired choice, which I’d love to describe as a homage to 1980s action cinema with a distinctively European edge, but I can’t since there is a self-referential joke in the film about a critic who wrote exactly that. Ryan Gosling plays a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver, and his steely and cool performance sets the tone for the film. For at least the first half of Drive it feels like something Paul Schrader may have made. The second half of the film revels more in its generic characteristics with the very graphic and pulpy violence recalling Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. I did find Drive ultimately a little anti-climatic and was a bit disappointed that more wasn’t made of the Driver’s skills behind the wheel. But don’t get me wrong, this is still a finely crafted piece of cinema and a highlight of the festival.

[EDIT 26/10/2011: Read a full review of Drive]

The Mill and the Cross functions as a living painting and an imagining of how that painting was created. Fusing art, cinema and history, filmmaker Lech Majewski dramatically brings Pieter Brueghel’s 1564 The Procession to Calvary to life with a degree of ambition the rivals the more esoteric work of Peter Greenaway. Most interesting is the web-like structure of the painting that is initially replicated in the film with a web-like narrative structure, with Rutger Hauer as Breughel in the centre and differenet strands of interlocking stories stretching out from him. This is unfortunately somewhat lost when the film ends up focusing on the religious iconography in The Procession to Calvary, with a lengthy re-enactment of Christ’s crucifixion. As The Mill and the Cross was originally designed to be exhibited in a gallery context, I couldn’t help but think it may have worked better as a multi-screen installation to further liberate the concept from the lineal restrictions of cinema.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Leave it to the innovative maverick Werner Herzog to be one of the few directors to use 3D in a way that not only enhances the film, but is also essential for that film. Herzog hasn’t created a new world in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, but he does take us into one that very few humans will ever get to experience. It is the world of the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, which contains both a delicate natural beauty and fragile cave paintings that are now considered the oldest known examples of primitive art. Part nature documentary and part art documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is an astonishing privilege to experience. Various scientific experts help to bring the artwork to life and create a vivid picture of how the caves where used by early humans and animals such as the extinct cave bear. Herzog’s narration contains no self censorship as he muses about the profound nature of what these caves hold.

[EDIT 7/10/2011: Read a full review of Cave of Forgotten Dreams]

MIFFhaps

I attempted to meet David Stratton last night and completely bollocksed it up. Standing by himself before the Closing Night film, I approached him for a chat, suddenly got a bit overwhelmed and said something like, ‘Hello Mr Stratton, I’m a film critic and hi and you’re a big inspiration and hi and so are you here for the ACMI event that’s coming up?’

His reply was, ‘ No, I’m coming back to Melbourne a bit later for the ACMI event. I’m here tonight for MIFF.’

I then just stood there nodding like an idiot, went completely blank, muttered ‘thank you’ and then literally ran off. One of the people I know from Triple R walked past me and whispered, ‘Next time just pee on him.’

Show us your MIFF

Having previously worked for MIFF,  Beatrix Coles is enjoying this year’s festival as a punter, with Another Earth and Life in Movement to look forward to today. Although they are both very different films her anticipation levels for both are equally high. She loved seeing Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard with an audience largely composed of people who knew Howard, which was a really special experience. Over the years she’s also enjoyed seeing the Forum in full swing: ‘It’s my ultimate Friday night after work spot, and I wish it was open all year round.’ Beatrix is currently working on Authentic In All Caps,  a playful web-driven comedy-drama about a gambling philosopher. Beatrix’s all-time favourite film is A Hard Day’s Night, a film she can always watch.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 14

6 August 2011
Bobby Fischer Against the World

Bobby Fischer Against the World

I’ve always suspected that chess was the past-time for geniuses and madmen and the documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World does seem to confirm this. What sets this film aside from being a conventional biographical account of Fischer’s life and career, is when it examines the nature of genius and why Fischer was so unpredictable, erratic and eventually intensely paranoid. From his difficult childhood to being ill-equiped to deal with fame to the trappings of peaking so early in life, Fischer had a number of factors working against him. Most interestingly is when the film delves into the history of psychosis in elite chess players, suggesting that there is a real danger of applying the thought processes required to win at chess to the real world. For all the boxing metaphors used throughout the film, the themes of melancholia, obsession and flawed masculinity, plus Fischer’s career ending on a depressing whimper rather than an exciting bang, it is a wonder that Martin Scorsese hasn’t made a film about him yet.

Of all the feature films I listed on my festival picks post, which seems so long ago now, A Stoker is the only one that I ended up significantly not liking. I was interested to a point in all the metaphorical elements in this Russian film, where the casual acts of violence expressed a morally empty and lost society left behind by the collapse of Communism. But the social commentary is blunt and obvious, an awful lot of time is spent following characters travelling to the next location and the relentless upbeat soundtrack is more grating than ironic. The attempts at being confronting, including the redundant and mean-spirited coda, are not successful. In yesterday’s post I was commenting on how I struggled to appreciate Le Havre because I’m not on director Aki Kaurismäki’s droll wave length, however, I now have an increased admiration for how well Kaurismäki pulls off dead pan after seeing it done so tediously in A Stoker.

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest

I was really looking forward to Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, since I like A Tribe Called Quest but know very little about them. This documentary therefore did exactly what a good music doco should do: brought people like me up to speed and, according to reports from more serious hip hop fans in the audience, provided lots of information that wasn’t previously well known. I was especially interested in the dynamics between the members of the group especially the strained relationship between childhood friends Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, which they both talk candidly about. Most importantly, this film expresses the essence of the music the band created in regards to what else was happening in hip hop, their jazz influences and the development of the Native Tongues collective.

MIFFhaps
Was there something in the water last night or maybe a full moon? I heard numerous reports that audiences were particularly thoughtless during many sessions. Maybe there were more people than usual who were easily offended, confused or bored and hadn’t done their research into the films they were seeing. It’s sad as not that long ago a major drawcard for coming to MIFF was being able to see films with an audience who shared a love for cinema and were therefore respectful of other audience members in terms of how they behaved during screenings. But, it’s no longer like that as now even MIFF suffers from the blight of the serial talker, the clueless wrapper rustler and – maybe worst of all – the moronic phone user.

I don’t know why this concept is so difficult but you shouldn’t use your phone in any way while a film is on. If you need to do a time check, wear a watch. If you are waiting for an important message, don’t be in the cinema in the first place. If you are bored, then just piss off so the rest of us don’t have the glare of your phone screen to compete with while you update Facebook with, ‘OMG, in totally boring movie. Sooo lame. y am i hear? LOL!!!!1!!’

I personally was most annoyed last night by the girl who disappeared from Beats, Rhymes & Life for half an hour to buy beer for her boyfriend and then when she came back she asked him what she had missed, which he then recounted. I was somewhat vindicated though when at the end of the film she said, ‘That was so dope’ and everybody sitting around her sniggered.

Show us your MIFF
As well as being a MIFF volunteer Suzanne Steinbruckner also volunteers at Triple R and the AFI, as well as being on the Friends of the Astor committee. Then, in between work and study, she also occasionally blogs at The Other Parts. This is her 10th MIFF and her highlights this year have been Surviving Life and Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard. However, her favourite moment during the festival was attending the Peter Tscherkassky masterclass, mainly because she was seated between very enthusiastic Tscherkassky fan-girls Cerise Howard (whom I profiled in Part 7 of the blog-a-thon) and Tara Judah (one of my Plato’s Cave cohosts). Suzanne and I recommend reading Cerise’s response to the Tscherkassky events and listening to Tara and Paul Harris’s interview with Tscherkassky from Film Buff’s Forecast, Triple R. Suzanne’s greatest MIFFhap was taking a magnificent fall on the footpath outside of the Forum in 2009. She was then mainly concerned about missing her next session but a couple of kind fellow film fans got her some first aid and made sure she got home. It turned out she had done herself some damage and had to miss a number of sessions. Once she did make it back to the festival her face wounds did suit the general vibe during the debut of The Loved Ones. Fortunately the last piece of cheek scab fell off an hour or so before the Closing Night party.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 13

5 August 2011
Guilty of Romance

Guilty of Romance

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.

Black Venus

Black Venus

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.

MIFFhaps
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.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 12

4 August 2011
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.

MIFFhaps
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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MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 11

3 August 2011
Polisse

Polisse

There have been a lot of films at this year’s festival with a focus on children, with I Am Eleven and Tomboy being the happier highlights. The darker side of the coin are films about child neglect and abuse with Michael and now Polisse most directly exploring the horrors of crimes against children. Focusing on the Child Protection Unit, a division of the police in Paris, Polisse adopts a documentary style to depict the professional and personal lives of the officers. There is a deliberately fragmented approach where various story threads flow in and out of the film to capture the essence of the unit’s day-to-day work rather than present a single grand narrative. We see celebrations over small victories, frustrations, breakdowns and the dark humour that is required for the officers to stay sane. While never exploitive, there are upsetting moments when the reality of what has happened to some children hits home. Of all the films I have seen this year Polisse is the one that most took me by surprise. It’s an extremely well crafted ensemble piece, constantly engaging and at times deeply moving.

[EDIT 3/7/2012: Read a full review of Polisse]

Until now I knew nothing about Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who created the gekiga genre of Japanese comics, which adopted a more realistic, serious and mature style of storytelling that was distinct from the popular children-oriented manga comics. Tatsumi not only explains the cultural context of gekiga comics, but adopts Tatsumi’s simple yet expressive cartooning style to depict his life and bring to life five of his short stories. The stories are remarkably angry and tragic pieces about the cruelty of fate and the failings of masculinity and I was slightly puzzled by the whimsical music used throughout the autobiographic sections of the film, which seemed so at odds with the serious social critique in the stories. Nevertheless, this is a fascinating autobiographical film of sorts with a very inventive approach to its subject matter.

The Swell Season

The Swell Season

Like so many people who saw the glorious Once, I fell in love with the sweet story of musicians/stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglová who became an off-screen couple during filming and went on to win an Academy Award. I remember seeing them in concert when they toured Melbourne and later being a bit sad when I heard that they had romantically split up. The Swell Season looks at their life on the road after their massive success and how the sudden fame, new expectations and new pressures affected their relationship. Hansard and Irglová are both extremely open people so they talk candidly about the tensions in their lives. The music is integrated to comment on the status of their relationship during the film and the result is a very sad yet sweet and insightful film.

The latest documentary by the master of observational filmmaking Frederick Wiseman is Boxing Gym. Similarly to the Paris Opera Ballet as seen in La danse, the gym in suburban Austin is filled with bodies in motion. Wiseman edits the sound and the visuals to represent the gym as something of a living organism, with its constant activity. A huge range of people attend the gym and the focus on people training, snippets of conversation and the logistics of running the gym makes for fascinating viewing.

How to Die in Oregon

How to Die in Oregon

The most emotional experience I have had at MIFF this year was seeing How to Die in Oregon, a remarkable documentary about people who have chosen to end their lives. The film does explore the issues and debates that physician-assisted suicide raises, but with only one real exception the people featured in the film are strong advocates of the need to be able to die with dignity. The main point of interest for me was getting an insight into what happens once people decide they want to end their lives. Gradually the film focuses on Cody Curtis, a terminally ill 52-year old woman, and she especially articulates the enormous amount of comfort, empowerment and peace that having such a choice brings to her and her family. Her story, in particular towards the end of the film, is documented with a respectful distance by the filmmakers that nevertheless contains a profound intimacy. It is extremely beautiful but also devastating. I think the entire audience were in tears by the end of the film and there were many of us who needed to sit still for several minutes after the credits finished rolling. I am so glad I saw this.

MIFFhap
The entire festival is something of a MIFFhap right now as we’ve all entered its darkest phase. The rush, excitement and good will of the festival starting has faded and the celebratory camaraderie of it coming to an end has yet to occur.  If MIFF were a dance party, we’d be in the hours between 3am and 5am. At the beginning it’s all euphoric as the experience begins. We’re not fussed if people jump two places ahead of the queue to stand with friends and we’ll happily shift seats to allow a couple arriving late to be able to sit together. We apologise if we think we’ve shuffled around too much during a film and be told not to worry about it. When things go wrong with a screening we laugh about how it’s all part of the festival experience. We merrily disagree with each other about what we’ve seen but respect where everybody is coming from.

It’s different now. The sun hasn’t come up yet, but the house lights are on and we can’t stand the sight of each other. Everything irritates us. Instead of saying, ‘Would you mind not talking, it’s a little bit distracting’, we’re screaming, ‘Shut up you thoughtless piece of trash and piss off back to the multiplexes’. We’re whipping out our phones and not giving a single damn about the people around us who are blinded by the glowing screens. When something goes wrong in a screening it feels like a personal attack designed to destroy our entire festival experience. Carrot sticks are replaced by Lord of the Fries – yeah, make it a box and extra gravy please. Our response to dissenting views is now: ‘You would think that because you’re a fascist who knows nothing about cinema!’ We’re recording podcasts where we repeatedly refer to The Kid with a Bike as The Kid on a Bike and bugger up details about the Dardenne brothers’ filmography.

However, we need to hold fast as the dawn is approaching. Soon this night will come to an end and we’ll be filled with a sense of relief, sadness that it’s all over and joy at having had such an amazing experience. In many ways, that is the best bit and it’s yet to come. So hang in their folks, find that second wind, rediscover the love and in the meantime just be very still and very quiet. We’re almost there.

Show us your MIFF
Having previously exchanged the occasional tweet with Rita Walsh (aka @rcwalsh) it was great to bump into her in person last week after a screening at the Forum. In fact, a general highlight of the festival for Rita, from over the ten years that she’s been attending, is seeing films in a packed house at the Forum. Natural Selection is so far her favourite film seen at this year’s festival, while Melancholia, A Separation, Life in a Day and Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure have all delivered too. Rita’s all-time favourite MIFF experience was the shared experience of seeing Old Boy in 2004 with a sold out audience when nobody knew quite where to look after the film’s shocking twist was revealed. Her MIFF survival tips are to bring coats and gloves for the queues and to pick a balance of films that you want to see combined with a few you know nothing about. Asking people with different tastes to you to recommend a few is also a good strategy. Rita doesn’t think it’s fair to commit to selecting her all-time favourite films so instead tells me which ones she could watch on repeat: Rear Window, The Fugitive, Thank You For Smoking, Notting Hill and Erin Brokovich. Rita works in film, TV and theatre as a producer and production freelancer.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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