Monday, August 13, 2007

MIFF Day 19 (final day)

[Edit: comments to This Is England and The Silence have been added]

My final day of MIFF was pretty intense, but I was prepared for it by reducing the number of screenings I attended in the last week (two films on each of two days, one on each of the rest). Sunday saw me at four screenings, the most I've done in a day ever ("ha pooey", I hear some of you say, "I regularly do five, six or even seven!"). Well, four is a lot for me, and I'm not in a hurry to do it again.

I'm back at work, so time is a bit precious. I'm posting two reviews now, and will update this as I can with the others. Some time during the week, I'll also post an overview of MIFF.

Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine, UK/France, 2007)
In spite of some early projection problems and mixed reviews of Mister Lonely, the latest film by wunderkind Harmony Korine was not only one of the stand-out films for me at MIFF, but one of my favourites of the year thus far. My experience of his work to date is limited to his writing of Larry Clark’s Kids (1995, at age 20) and his directorial debut Gummo (1997). The former I saw relatively recently and impressed me with its gritty realism, while the latter surprised me on its theatrical release with its bleakness.

Mister Lonely is a much more colourful film than anything I’ve associated with Korine. Its visuals (such as set design, camera angles and cinematography) are very pleasing, accentuated by its seemingly unrelated parallel narratives and absurdist premise. A Michael Jackson impersonator in France meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator, who introduces him to a Scottish commune full of various impersonators. While superficially the film appears to be frivolous, clearly it has deeper social comments to make about identity, loneliness and alienation, issues the director has been reportedly grappling with personally.

The other narrative relates to a group of missionaries in Panama, with Werner Herzog portraying a priest, Father Umbrillo, delivering food aid by plane, assisted by various nuns. While the connection between the dual narratives is unclear, this story is strangely surreal, visually alluring and entertaining. I've spent a week or so in Panama, including flying over the jungle in a small plane, but I didn't recognise the locale at the time (I thought it might have been the Caribbean).

There was a small flat spot towards the end of the film, but for most of the film’s 112 minutes, I had a big smile that was hard to wipe off my face. Charlie Chaplin, Shirley Temple, James Dean, Little Red Riding Hood, Queen Elizabeth, the Pope, The Three Stooges, Abraham Lincoln, Madonna and what I presume was a childhood version of Michael Jackson were all there.

The humour and irony are used with a clever and skillful blend of under- and over-statement. There is an underlying subtle sadness to some of the characters who, in spite of their eccentric alter egos, remain ordinary people that an audience can relate to. The film is intelligent and emotionally honest. One part is particularly close to the bone for me and brought tears to my eyes. This is probably Korine’s most accessible and enjoyable film. It deserves a theatrical release.

This was the second and final screening of Mister Lonely as part of MIFF's International Panorama. Link: Interview with Harmony Korine

Trailer for Mister Lonely
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The Man From London (Béla Tarr, France/Germany/Hungary/UK, 2007)
Like Mister Lonely, this part of MIFF’s ‘Come to Cannes’ screenings of films that recently debuted at Cannes. And once again I was surprised at how good this was, considering I’d heard some negative or indifferent murmurs about it. It goes to show that you never can judge a film until you’ve seen it yourself. This is my first ever attendance at a screening of a Béla Tarr film.

The Man From London is clearly a highly stylised homage to film noir of the 1940s. The lush black and white photography, using classic noir shadows and imagery is a feast for the eyes. The camera work is slow, fluid and dynamic, with very long takes in which little seems to happen. Combined with a mesmerising score slightly reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti’s sounds on Twin Peaks, a mood of ever-growing suspense and menace is created that powerfully engages from start to finish.

The basic premise of the film is that Maloin, a night harbour worker (played by Miroslav Krobot) witnesses some treachery between a disembarking passenger of a ship (the man in the title) and another man on-shore. A death may have occurred and when Maloin investigates, he becomes involved in an intrigue from which he cannot extricate himself.

Tilda Swinton plays Maloin’s wife, though her voice is dubbed over in Hungarian. The film was part-English produced, so maybe a name known to English-speaking audiences was required to market the film. The role was small, and I always find Swinton an interesting actor, so it was a curiosity to see her in this role. In general the tired and worn-out characters looked terrific on film, with a timeless quality that matched the aesthetics of the decaying town.

This is not a film for everyone, as it requires some patience and appreciation for aesthetics over action, and there is not a whole lot of the latter. While the film’s major strength is its visuals, they serve to subtly drive the slow-burn suspense. I was surprised when people started walking out of the film, first one by one, then after an hour about twenty or so walked out in unison. I estimate 60 people left, around 10% of the audience at the sold-out Forum screening. I was equally surprised that so few walked out of Inland Empire (I counted only four, about 1% of the also sold-out ACMI screening). Still, what’s a good film or a good film festival without walk-outs? Many of my favourite films have had them. I have read that this is not one of Tarr's best films. Well, I loved it and must seek out his others.

This was the second and final screening of The Man From London as part of MIFF's International Panorama.


This is England (Shane Meadows, England, 2000)
This is the third film I have seen by Shane Meadows, the others being TwentyFourSeven (1997) and A Room for Romeo Brass (1999). Both these films had a local theatrical release, though the latter I saw at MIFF in 1998. All three of these films are coming-of-age stories revolving around young males from poor working-class areas.

Reviews around town seem to be universally proclaiming This Is England as the best film yet by Shane Meadows. I disagree. I found the film very enjoyable, gritty at times and with some excellent performances (especially by thirteen-year old Thomas Turgoose as Shaun, and Stephen Graham as Combo), but it was no better than Meadows' solid drama in TwentyFourSeven, in which Bob Hoskins portrays a boxer who trains disadvantaged boys to keep them off the street.

This Is England is reportedly Meadows' most autobiographical film. Clearly he had a dismal upbringing, and each of his films is uplifting, probably a reflection of the director's raising himself out of despair. While some of the recent accolades proclaim Meadows as the natural successor to Ken Loach or Mike Leigh. Again, I disagree. All three directors often portray the same working class, but Meadows' films are clearly more optimistic than Loach and Leigh, more stylised and thus less naturalistic. His films are more accessible to mainstream audiences. I consider them good mainstream entertainment, whereas Loach and Leigh are definitely arthouse film-makers.

Was the film a good choice as closing film? I suppose the answer depends on one's criteria for selection. In support, the opening and closing night films are entertaining and relevant but I find it a little odd that both have been selected with theatrical releases so close to MIFF. Sicko opened on wide release on August 9 before the festival had finished, while This Is England opened on August 16.

Prior to the film's screening, there were addresses by Claire Dobbin, Gavin Jennings (the new Minister of Innovation, replacing John Brumby who has assumed the role of Premier) and Richard Moore. Jennings was the only speaker who spoke without notes; he is a very competent and humorous speaker.

The Silence (Tystnaden, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1963)
The Silence was one of the four surprise screenings on the final day, a tribute to the recently departed Bergman. Unfortunately, This Is England finished late and I missed the first ten minutes or so of The Silence. While I'm told I didn't miss much, I felt a little disoriented at first and it took me a while to understand what was going on.

The film didn't engage me as much as the only other Bergman I've seen, Wild Strawberries. It did look nice and the tense perversity was handled well. As a film by a significant director, there's probably not a lot I can add at this point, but I look forward to exploring more of his works.

Link: Index of MIFF films reviewed

15 comments:

trentone said...

...and what I presume was a childhood version of Michael Jackson...

Ever see the Little Rascals? It was Buckwheat! Buh-wheat.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Well, you already know my thoughts on The Man From London. I am usually a very strong defender of "style over substance" movies - I find that what else is the art of cinema but a visual representation of somebody's thoughts and ideas? If that person's thoughts and ideas include images and sights and sounds more than an emotionally hinged story then who am I to judge?

But, while I adored the style (the photography and the music) of Man From London I didn't know what it was in service of because even in the most "style over substance" films the emmaculate visuals are there because the author (director if you will) thought they were integral to the representation of their story/idea. But... was there even a plot in The Man From London? It's all well and good to have great cinematography, but when you have scenes that stretch beyond ten minutes and all we see is a person staring at a wall it really tests my patience.

I'm not sure if any of that made sense, but I hope you catch my drift. I am a very visual person, and I am more likelyto respond to a film that uses stunning visuals over a film that does not, but I also like those stunning visuals to make my imagination run and go wild. But my imagination was not running wild. I felt like it was being stomped on by a hundred sets of feet.

The reason for the lack of walkouts in Inland Empire was that most people new it was "a film by David Lynch" and that you never really know where any of his movies are going so might as well stick it out.

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for the correction, Trent. I've never heard of Buckwheat or The Little Rascals. What happened to you in Melbourne? Did I scare you off? And what did you think of Mister Lonely? Was it worth the trip for you? Thanks for your recommendations, because the final day was a great one for me.

Glenn, what you write makes good sense. I think I understand you fairly clearly. The Man From London obviously clicked for me and not for you. I thought the visuals served the plot really well. I don't think it was just visual or style. For me, the visuals and the music served to create an ambience and a sort of paranoia about what might happen, even if nothing did. It always seemed like something was going to happen, and the POV taken by the camera accentuated that.

But hey, that's art.

Anonymous said...

Paul, if you want to check out other Bela Tarr films then you must take a look at Satantango which is amazing and one of the best and most original films I have ever seen. It would look great on the big screen but I doubt our cinemas will ever screen a 7hr b&w film so better order the Artificial Eye DVD from Amazon UK. Do not order the R1 DVD!

Paul Martin said...

Anonymous, I have consistently heard that Satantango is the Tarr film to see. Why do you recommend against teh R1 DVD? Mind you, I can't imagine when I will have the time to watch a 7hr DVD, but it has me intrigued. Especially after seeing The Man From London.

Al said...

Paul, there are some pretty negative comments out there about the quality of the R1 Tarr DVDs, not to mention exhaustive discussions about various running times (eg http://www.criterionforum.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1157 ). But why not check out Werckmeister Harmonies first - the Artificial Eye edition comes packaged with Damnation as well - and save Satantango for a long rainy day. Who knows, maybe we'll get the chance to see it in a cinema in Melbourne sometime? Tarr retrospective MIFF 2008? Ahahahaaaa... Man From London really split opinions, eh? In any case, Video Dogs in Carlton has all these.

Anyway Paul - heroic efforts here over past weeks, all those movies and a you kept up a really well-organised blog as well! I got to just 26 sessions and haven't even written all my notes yet. Cheers.

Al said...

PS. Anyone who thinks seeing five or six films in a day makes them a bigger, better cinephile than someone who'd rather see one or two is fooling themselves. FOOLING THEMSELVES!! Cramming is sometimes a necessary evil at festival time, but a lousy way to savour good cinema.

Anonymous said...

Al, Satantango is PERFECT for a rainy Saturday afternoon. I started watching it at 4pm and finished just before midnight. I included a couple of snacks. The film can be seen over 2-3 days as the film is divided into long chapters/sections but if you can watch it in one day with a couple of short breaks in between then this is the best way to see it.

trentone said...

Never heard of Buckwheat? Alfalfa? Spanky? OUR GANG? Buckwheat even says his name in the movie when all the impersonators introduce themselves.

I'm just very superstitious and got a bad feeling about the row of seats we were sitting in. Also the audiences repulsed me with descriptive terms such as 'subtle nuance', I just got a bad feeling, I didn't want to be around people who talked like this about films. I just kept to myself for the rest of the time and tried to block everything out. I hate fucking film festivals, they're complete bullshit and attract phoney people who just go along to any old film and have no respect or courtesy for those of us who are going to a specific film for a specific reason. So fuck them all. Unfortunately you fell into the trap of a film festival, you were wearing a pass around your neck and I just got a bad feeling about the whole thing.

As for Mister Lonely, you and just about every other review I've read have completely missed one of the most important aspects of the movie--the soundtrack. It is the music that Christ Himself listens to. I have no desire to put forth any kind of critique of the film because I feel so tired and bored of reading and hearing people use the same boring descriptive pseudo intellectual terms that shed absolutely no new light on film. All I can say is that I loved Mister Lonely with all my heart and every single image and piece of music in that film are why I go to the cinema.

Paul Martin said...

Thanks Al. I made a conscious decision prior to MIFF to limit the films I saw so that I had time to write, which is something I do primarily for myself, and something I prefer to do ASAP after I've seen a film. By brain-dumping, I can record my thoughts and feelings and let go before I see something else. You're writing notes? Do you have a blog?

I don't know anyone who sees large numbers of films that is trying to be a bigger or better cinephile. Cinema is different things to different people. I find the idea incomprehensible, but that's me. I find three or four films a week a good number, but then sometimes I like to go a couple of weeks without a film and then maybe see 6 in a week. It kind of depends on what's on and how long it's showing for and how I feel, etc.

Trent, the boy may have said Buckwheat, but I didn't recognise the words, and no, never heard of him.

I understand what you're saying about film festivals but disagree that I fell into any kind of trap. For several years, I avoided MIFF completely, preferring to go to the Kino or Nova and loving the fact that I had a whole cinema to myself. I'm there for my own purposes and I really don't care how phoney or otherwise others are. Life is a journey and we're all in different phases of our respective journeys. So again, I can relate to what you're saying, and I've been in what I think is a similar place, but I'm not there now.

As for the reserved seating, my initial thought was to sit in a regular seat and did that for several sessions. But then some sessions were very full or booked out and after talking to another person with the same pass, decided that if I don't use up my reserved seat, it encourages others to move in on them to the detriment of others. So I thought, fuck the ego, just do it. And I did. You could think of it as transcending ego. Or not, I dunno. Anyway, thanks for being forthright and explaining.

Mister Lonely was very personal for me. Any words I write about any film will have less meaning than I can express. Cinema is such a moving experience (when it works), and how can one express that with words? I just try to give an indication as best I can. What I experienced with Mister Lonely was perhaps too personal to be specific, but I will reveal here that it has to do with death. You may know that my son committed suicide last December, and there were not just themes, but even specific words depicted (and I'm talking about suicide notes here) that really moved me. There was such depth depicted in the film that was so honest and truthful, and meaningful to me, but it didn't feel right to express that in my comments on the film. I deliberately left my comments more general, and as a recommendation to seek the film. I think the film has appeal beyond my appreciation. I completely and sincerely agree with your final sentence, and am happy that we're in the same ball park on this one. :)

As for the music, I'm a little unclear about your meaning. I remember really liking the music, and note that I haven't made any mention of it. I think that's part of the price you pay when you see a film like this, and then others after it. I really did feel that I wasn't doing justice by seeing the four films on the day. I saw the first two by myself and suggested to my other half we not go to one of the later ones, but she wanted to, so I complied. As me mate Ned would say, such is life.

Al said...

No, I don't blog. Certainly have thought about it though. I just make the notes for myself, a) to process my thoughts about a film, and b) to help me to remember the film years down the track. Actually I'm sure a) leads to b) to a large extent. When I do get a blog up, I'll be sure to link you! I know, it's easy, but I just can't seem to take the step to set it up and start publishing. Then again, it would be nice to share these notes with a few sympathetic souls. Or unsympathetic, whatever... as it is, I just spend too much time commenting on public forums and other people's blogs!

Paul Martin said...

Al, I was posting comments on sites like At The Movies and The Movie Show for some time. I find blogging a way of keeping your writing and thoughts in one place. And if someone engages in dialogue, that's a bonus. It'd be good to expand the online film community. Yes, it's good to have people disagree and make you accountable for your opinions. 'Keep the bastards honest'. ;)

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

RE: "It always seemed like something was going to happen, and the POV taken by the camera accentuated that."
I'd argue that after about 20 minutes, it became very obvious that nothing was ever going to happen. And having gone in well aware that the movie's running time stretched beyond two hours, to me this was a crushing realisation.
I appreciated the photography and the locations, and there were some striking scenes in the first hour (the street where he first discovers his daughter cleaning in the window - I wish the rest of the movie was that atmospheric), but after that I couldn't look at it any other way than as a self-parody - the music was silly, and as if the plot pace wasn't suffocating enough, when the actors started talking really. really. sloo-owly. it turned into a very nasty joke.
My favourite part about the movie was when I finally made it outside and read the program guide synopsis out loud with a bunch of friends. (It's about existence! But of course!)

I'm still very eager to see Satantango though, since even Tarr fans seemed to be very reserved about this one.

PS. Watch the Simpsons Movie!! It's the perrfect antidote to all them glacial tone poems. (Plus it's a perfect little movie too.)

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Also! I forgot to point out The Silence as a wonderful example of a slow-burning mood piece handled masterfully. I cannot get enough of Bergman.

Paul Martin said...

Goran, whatever the director's intent, it seemed to work with me. As I wrote above, I was surprised when people walked out en masse.

As for The Simpson's Movie, you're the second person to suggest just that. As the end of MIFF drew towards a close, I was thinking I'd even go see Die Hard 4.0 for a break. Junk food for the brain.