Saturday, July 28, 2007

MIFF Day 3

Day 3 of the festival and three more screenings attended. My research has paid off - so far no duds.

The Monastery
(Pernille Rose Grønkjaer, Denmark, 2006)
Mr. Jørgen Laursen Vig decided towards the end of his life that the somewhat delapidated castle he’d owned for forty years in the Danish countryside could be best put to use as a Russian Orthodox monastery. He contacted the Patriarchate in Moscow, who sent a delegation to investigate. The Monastery documents the arrival of the delegation (of two nuns, a novice and the van driver) and subsequent discussions and negotiations between various parties.

At one stage, the negotiations appear to be at a stalemate as the delegation returns to Moscow, and no word is heard for many months. Mr. Vig appears to be at least partly motivated by self-interest (he wants pilgrims to stay and maintain the building), and his demands are sometimes met with amusement by the Russians.

The most captivating aspect of the film is Vig himself and his many idiosyncrasies. Not only does he look like someone from another century, but he is stuck in his ways and he admits it. He doesn’t like the nuns and mentions he doesn’t get on well with people. He has only been fond of one person in his life and he’s long dead – his father. Vig didn’t relate particularly well with his mother, which he attributes to her nose. Vig has a thing about noses. And ears, too!

The Monastery won the The FIPRESCI Award for Best Documentary at The Sydney Film Festival. It’s not an insightful documentary, but it’s what you might call a human interest film and is entertaining.

The Monastery screened as part of MIFF's Documentaries. It screens again on Sun 31 July at 11am at the Regent Theatre. Official website.

Still Life (Sanxia haoren, Jia Zhang-Ke, China/Hong Kong, 2006)
Ancient towns have been submerged along the Yangtse River in China as part of the Three Gorges Dam project. Jia Zhang-Ke has created a contemplative and compassionate human drama set in the region, depicting two separate protagonists attempting to locate missing ones who lived in areas now underwater.

I'm not a great fan of high definition digital video photography, but this sublime film takes advantage of the benefits of the technology while avoiding most of the pitfalls. I was seriously sleep-deprived while watching the film and never got close to nodding off, even though there are very long takes where little seems to happen. Yet in the long takes, there are many passing details, the beautiful movements of the camera taking in rich and authentic details of people, situations, implements, household paraphernalia and gorgeous sweeping vistas. The latter appeared to be enhanced using filters, which seemed to compensate for the loss of aesthetics that comes from not shooting on 35mm film. This film was visually beautiful, though that really only served what was an extremely well-made film.

As a fan of world cinema, I found the attention to detail fascinating. The director seems to be sharing the idiosyncrasies of the struggling local culture, customs and demeanour with a real sense of compassion. I found it poetic, uplifting and moving. Paraphrasing MIFF executive director Richard Moore who quoted the director (and who was in attendance as a guest of the festival) in introducing the film: "I originally wanted to make films that would change the world... I now realise this is not possible, and I just wish to make films that make people sigh." It worked with me.

The session I attended sold out. Still Life sscreened as part of MIFF's Neighbourhood Watch. It screens again on Tue 7 August at 7pm at the Regent Theatre.

Savage Grace (Tom Kalin, Spain/USA, 2007)
Having seen quite a few films produced by Christine Vachon, I recognised a similar aesthetic in this film. Vachon's films often portray unconventional sexuality or other challenging social themes, but in a stylised way that is more accessible to wider audiences than grittier arthouse films. This film would make a terrific companion piece to Christophe Honoré's Ma mère, as it tackles similarly challenging themes, though it is based on a true story and is much more digestible for audiences. The parallels between these stories are remarkable.

Julianne Moore is an actress I admire and takes top billing. Her performance was as good as usual, portraying
Barbara Daly Baekeland, wife of the Bakelite heir. Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of her homosexual son was for me the stand-out performance. The film is set in various countries - the US, France, Spain and England - and the visuals are excellent. It takes a while to get a handle on where the film wants to take us, but it culminates in a chilling end. Worth seeing for the brave risks it takes and succeeds in delivering.

The screening I attended was introduced by the director, Tom Kalin, who mentioned this was only the third ever screening of the film. Savage Grace screened as part of MIFF's Forbidden Pleasures. It screens again on Sun 12 August at 3pm at the Forum Theatre.

Links: Index of MIFF films reviewed to date / MIFF website

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you'd like Kalin's film Swoon :) BP