Another three films were today viewed by the Melbourne Film Blogger today and again it was an excellent range of world cinema. The observant may have noticed that my previous MIFF reviews have been posted in the wee hours of the morning. Sleep deprivation has prevented me from seeing The Bubble tonight, and with the other screening clashing with my booking for Inland Empire, I'm going to miss it at MIFF. I've heard good things about it so hopefully it will get a cinema release in the future.
I also got to meet in person two fellow bloggers today, Mathieu Ravier from Last Night With Riviera (my favourite Australian film blog) - we saw The Mourning Forest together - and Richard Watts from Man About Town, while he was chatting to the director of Savage Grace, Tom Kalin (who I also exchanged words with), at the ACMI lounge.
The Mourning Forest (Mogari no mori, Naomi Kawase, Japan, 2007)
I found The Mourning Forest a poetic and hauntingly beautiful meditation on death, old age, sadness and letting go. I haven't actively sought films that fit into the 'contemplative cinema' category at MIFF, but this is one of several I've seen so far.
The film is effectively a two-hander: Shigeki, an elderly and energetic resident of a retirement home, and Machiko, a young and inexperienced caregiver. The film focuses on their interactions and what happens when Machiko takes Shigeki for a drive on his birthday. While other characters assume fleeting roles, there is a recurring theme of death and mourning, a point that is reinforced by both the title and on-screen comments at film's end. While this may sound morbid, it is anything but.
The cinematography is stunning, capturing the beauty of wind-swept fields, overhead shots of finely-trimmed symmetrical arrays of hedges, and mountain forest scenery. There are long takes where nothing of much significance seems to transpire and yet the film remains completely engaging. The human drama is depicted as inexplicably linked to nature, a poetic theme that Japanese cinema sometimes conveys so effectively. This is one of ten or so films that Richard Moore has brought to MIFF straight from Cannes (it won this year's Grand Prix) and I highly recommend it.
The Mourning Forest screened as part of MIFF's Neighbourhood Watch. It screens again on Sunday 12 August at 1pm at the Forum Theatre.
Dry Season (Daratt, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad/France/Belgium/Austria, 2006)
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's story is remarkable in it's starkness of setting - the desert of Chad - and in the manner in which it unfolds. Like the previous film reviewed (The Mourning Forest), this is a two-hander in which there is very little dialogue - one can't talk and the other won't. This creates an almost surreal element to the film, where hatred seethes through silent glares.
When the Chad Commission for Truth and Justice grants amnesty to some 200 war criminals, the elderly Gumar Abatcha gives his dead son's pistol to his orphaned grandson Atim and dispatches him to kill the murderer of Atim's father. Living far away, Nassara is a dangerous man who now ekes out a living as a baker, trying to forget his past. When Atim finds him, he insinuates himself into Nassara's life with the intent of exacting revenge. Dry Season would make an excellent companion film to Death and the Maiden (1994), Roman Polanski's thrilling film version of a play about political repression and revenge in Central America.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I find it unfortunate that we have to wait for festivals to see films like this. It depicts a culture we know virtually nothing about, is visually stunning and was thoroughly engaging. Another excellent film.
Dry Season won five awards at the 2006 Venice Film Festival and screened as part of MIFF's Africa! Africa! It screens again on Monday 6 August at 5pm at the Regent Theatre.
Beaufort (Joseph Cedar, Israel, 2007)
I'm not a fan of the war genre, but Beaufort plays out more as a psychological thriller, and I find it hard to fault. There was an amazing blend of naturalism, stylistic devices, humour, touching human drama and suspense - at one time I jumped in my seat like I never have before.
The camera movements and cinematography are excellent and reinforce a sense of claustrophobia as a group of Israeli soldiers keep guard at an historic fort within southern Lebanon, but are virtually under seige by Hezbollah forces. Character development is also excellent with much authenticity. The film focuses on the idiosyncrasies of various characters and how they interact with each other under the circumstances. Respect for the commanding officer is sometimes lacking, resulting in a lack of discipline and friction at a difficult time.
I count this film as one of my favourite films in the genre, kind of a cross between Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket and Sam Mendes' Jarhead, and as good as either of these. Like these two films, there is an understated political critique in how young men are pawns in the games played by those who live comfortably aware from the field of battle and death. Whether you like war films or not, this is must-see cinema.
Beaufort won the Silver Bear Award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and screened as part of MIFF's Stars of David. It screens again on Saturday 11 August at 7pm at the Forum Theatre.
Links: Index of MIFF films reviewed to date / MIFF website