Friday, August 01, 2008

MIFF Days 2 - 7

We're a week into MIFF, and I've only written about the Opening Night film, Not Quite Hollywood. Fatigue, time (or lack of) and the realisation that I have to get to bed by 1am have prevented me from writing as promptly as last year (as I recollect, I did a write up every night, no matter the time - crazy!). I must say, I made a big mistake this year. I went to Opening Night with not enough sleep, and have struggled since. I'm trying to catch up now, but it's difficult. Memo to self: next year make sure you're well-rested before the festival starts.

Day 2: Sat 26 July
A fost sau n-a fost? (12:08 East of Bucharest, Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania, 2006)
Long Weekend (Colin Eggleston, Australia, 1978)

Day 3: Sun 27 July
Vikaren (The Substitute, Ole Bornedal, Denmark, 2007)
My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, Canada, 2007)
Of Time and the City (Terence Davies, UK, 2008)

Day 4: Mon 28 July
Terra Sonâmbula (Sleepwalking Land, Teresa Prata, Portugal/Mozambique, 2006)
Momma's Man (Azazel Jacobs, USA, 2008)
Katyn (Andrej Wajda, Poland, 2007)

Day 5: Tue 29 July
El Baño del Papa (The Pope's Toilet, Enrique Fernandez, Cesar Charlone, Uruguay/Brazil/France, 2007)
Moartea domnului Lazarescu (The Death of Mister Lazarescu, Alexandru Munteanu, Romania, 2005)

Day 6: Wed 30 July
Bam gua nat (Night and Day, Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2008)
Élève libre (Private Lessons, Joachim Lafosse, Belgium/France, 2008)
40 x 15: The 40 Forty Years of the Directors' Fortnight (Olivier Jahan, France, 2008)
Ashes of Time Redux (Wong Kar Wai, Hong Kong, 2008)

Day 7: Thu 31 July
Gitmek: My Marlon and Brando (My Marlon and Brando, Huseyin Karabey, Turkey, 2008)
Qing mei zhu ma (Taipei Story, Edward Yang, Taiwan, 1985)

12:08 East of Bucharest
This is a quietly satisfying film. It starts out as an ensemble drama with understated dry wit and somewhere along the way - I'm not sure when - it becomes a black comedy. The film documents the impact of the fall of the Ceacescu dictatorship on a micro level, analysing social changes, people's recollections and how lies are perpetuated. I'm making a point to see as many of the Romanian films screening at MIFF, and this was a good start.

Long Weekend
Screening as part of the Ozploitation stream, I'd heard good things about this film. With a low budget and a cast of two, despite its obvious flaws, this is a film that has much to admire and enjoy. Director Eggleston is able to maintain a high level of suspense without dialogue for long stretches. I liked the film and the missus really loved it.

The Substitute
I took the kid to see this, and while I didn't think it had anything scarier than a Harry Potter movie, there was one scene that unsettled him to the point that he started crying (he's 7 years old) and the missus had to take him out. Aside from that, I found the film fairly clumsy, like many Australian or German films. It felt like an Australian kids flick you might see after school on the ABC. It also seemed quite derivative (from parts of Men in Black). It has, however, won overseas awards as a children's film. It has funny moments, but I found it unsatisfying as either a children's film or as a film in general.

My Winnipeg
This ode to Guy Maddin's hometown reminded me of a film I watched online on Matt Clayfield's blog a while ago, but be damned if I can find it. This is the second Maddin film I've seen, after Brand Upon the Brain at MIFF last year. In the context of a film festival, I like the unconventional nature of Maddin's work, though this one is not as gripping as last year's title. Still, it's worth a look.

Of Time and the City
I found this pretty dull, perhaps a made-for-TV BBC documentary. Because I set up my MIFF schedule and forget what each film is about, I often go into the cinema without a clue of what I'm about to see. It took me quite some time to work out that this film is an homage to the director's hometown Liverpool. I found the narrative using mostly prose, including quotes from a wide range of writers like Jung and Engels, distancing. With a short run time of 72 minutes, I still found myself looking at my watch waiting for the end.

Sleepwalking Land
This film looks good and had some good elements, but just didn't work for me. I found it's narrative too clunky, too contrived. The dynamics between the actors just didn't seem quite right and I couldn't believe in the story.

Momma's Man
Low budget indie US film-making that aspires for the transcendence of Old Joy, replete with subtle political messages. Not bad, but doesn't achieve Old Joy's peaks.

Wow, this film packs a punch. It looks great (with the same cinematographer from Polanski's The Pianist and Oliver Twist). Like other Polish films I've liked (including others by Wajda and also early Kieslowski), there's historical and political references that may seem a little oblique to non-Polish audiences. If anything, that only piques my interest to learn more about them. Perhaps more of a problem, though, are some of the relationship dynamics that I didn't completely work out - it'll take another viewing to clarify some of them for me.

Nonetheless, this is a powerful film that was clearly a very personal project - it depicts the World War 2 massacre that took the life of Wajda's own father and clearly impacted not just many of the films he has made, but his whole life. It certainly shows that the Soviets were not benevolent dictators but rather treacherous murderers who colluded with the Nazis for their own ends. Massively popular in Poland and that's country's entry for this year's Oscars, hopefully it will get a local release. This was the first stand-out film at the festival for me.

The Pope's Toilet
An enjoyable enough dark comedy that captures the social and cultural life of poverty in an Uruguayan village as it prepares for the visit of the Pope. The ending is somewhat predictable but it's the journey that is more satisfying.

The Death of Mister Lazarescu
This is the kind of film I want to see at a festival, or any time for that matter. A film like this would never be made in the West, yet it is as universal as any film could be. Who would think a story that follows an obsese and drunken slob through the last hours of his existence could be so compelling? With long takes, the film has a documentary look and feel very similar to 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, my favourite cinema release of 2007.

The film is an damning indictment, not just of Romanian bureaucracy, but of the failings of hospitals everywhere. In all its minute detail and documenting of hospital admissions, I could see no material difference between how we operate here on the other side of the globe in a much more affluent society. Perhaps the only departure from Australian society is that we could more reliably expect an ambulance when needed.

Like 4 Months, this film has a fly-on-the-wall feel to it, as we get a glimpse into this poor man's life: how he lives, what is family situation is, who his neighbours are and how his addiction to alcohol is about to lead to a descent into bureaucratic hell as he is shunted from one hospital to another. Must-see cinema at its finest!

Night and Day
Pardon me now, and for the rest of my mini-reviews of MIFF films, if I become repetitive in my use of the term "quietly satisfying". For that is how I found this film, as I did with the director's Woman on the Beach, which screened at MIFF last year. A Korean guy flees to Paris to avoid possible arrest for possession of marijuana. Not seeking to absorb French life in any way, he simply bides his time and we see a foreigner's experience of Paris as he hooks up with various compatriots. While I've been a little disappointed with my overall selection of films so far, this one is enjoyable and - wait for it - quietly satisfying.

Private Lessons
I should not have gone into this film with the high expectations I did. But I couldn't help it: after the director's magnificent Private Property, my favourite film at last year's French Film Festival, this is one of only two films that this year I decided I must see. It is not a bad film, but lacks something that his early film had.

Both films have a common theme: boys growing up without their fathers. While Private Property was extremely restrained and understated, Private Lessions goes for the jugular and puts to the fore, transgression that is only hinted at in Private Property. The film looks good and has some good elements. I think it lacks subtlety. Perhaps after Christophe Honoré's Ma mère (My Mother), it is a little too predictable and a little too contrived. Still, if you like transgressive and challenging cinema, this is a good film to see.

40 x 15: The 40 Forty Years of the Directors' Fortnight
I suppose this is a reasonable festival selection considering the Directors' Fortnight stream at this year's MIFF. It was interesting enough, but nothing compelling that says you've gotta go out and see it. It covers how the DF came into being, its rocky history and where it is now.

Ashes of Time Redux
This film is all style and very little substance. It's a story in the vein of Zhang Yimou's martial arts spectaculars though with Wong Kar Wai's vivid and impressionistic visuals. I found the story very confusing and would need to see it again to understand it better, but there's no way I'd want to see it again, regardless of how good it looks. There's some good humour there, especially the way the film at times resembles or emulates the American Western genre. For me, the film is meh.

My Marlon and Brando
An interesting film that is not spectacular in any way but holds much interest for its depiction of a Turkish woman who tries to travel to Kurdish Iraq to hook up with her lover. It's 2003 and the US has just invaded Iraq, and she has to go via Iran. What I found most compelling was the difference in social mores as she travelled from one country to another. Turkey is really progressive compared to some of the places she went.

Taipei Story
I found this disappointing after all the hype surrounding Edward Yang. The film is austere, with minimal dialogue or narrative exposition. Generally, this is a quality I admire and it's on display in a MIFF film I liked a lot more, The Death of Mister Lazarescu. In Taipei Story, I found it kept me confused for way too long and I failed to understand the nature of the relationships between some of the central characters.

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