Festival fatigue is a terrible thing, and difficult to shake. It doesn't affect me with a great film, but many a lesser yet worthy film may not be appreciated as I nod off. Such was the case with the first two films of Day 15.
Fri 8 August
Le Diable probablement (The Devil Probably, Robert Bresson, France, 1977)
Tout est parfait (Everything is Fine, Yves Christian Fournier, Canada, 2007)
O' Horten (Bent Hamer, Norway, 2008)
Stellet licht (Silent Light, Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/The Netherlands/Germany, 2007)
The Devil Probably
Apparently the 35mm print screened at my session is a rare print and the only one available. So announced the MIFF person prior, requesting tolerance for the print's quality. As it turned out, the scratches and discolouration weren't too much a problem. The film just didn't grab me and I nodded off for a couple of minutes near the start. Consequently, much of the subsequent story didn't make sense to me and I struggled to the end. While I respect the exploration and experimentation in French New Wave, much of it eludes me still.
Everything is Fine
Five 17 year old classmates commit suicide and a remaining friend is left wondering why. Look, I lost my 17 year old son to suicide, but none of this French Canadian film rang true for me. I just couldn't buy into it and it seemed aimed not much higher than an episode of Neighbours. The final conceit of the film was just so silly that it just confirmed everything else I perceived of it.
I was very curious to see Bent Hamer's latest film in his native Norway. His previous film, Factotum (2005) was a great little rendition of the life of Charles Bukowski by Matt Dillon. O' Horten is a highly original black comedy that is beautifully photographed as it follows a retiring train driver before, during and after his retirement. The film's use of irony made me realise how little it is employed in comedy.
The film could be called quirky, but nothing like the spate of over-contrived quirky indie US comedies of recent years. There was always the unexpected, and while the film is stylised, the surprises always have an authentic and natural feel to them. The film is an homage to old age, full of elderly characters and observations of some of their idiosyncrasies.
Last year, I found Snow Angels an example of the type of films I'd like to see more of at MIFF: films with the potentially mainstream appeal that are unlikely to get a local theatrical release. Such is the case with O' Horten. It's highly enjoyable, original and a vastly super alternative to the many French and UK comedies that make their way to our local arthouse cinemas.
After Matt Ravier's glowing review of Silent Light at Sydney Film Festival, I decided to order the DVD (along with Reygadas' earlier films, Japon and Battle in Heaven). By the time the DVDs arrived, Silent Light had been announced as screening at MIFF. Consequently, I held off waiting to see it on the big screen first. And boy, the wait was worth it. This is a sublimely beautiful film that, even though it runs for 142 minutes and ended close to midnight, had me completely entranced by its aesthetic story-telling.
Yes, those bookend sunrise and sunset shots are amazing, but it's the totality of the story-telling that grabbed me. The extremely long takes grab the attentive viewer into the beauty of the details in the seeming ordinary. It confirms my perspective that art is a way of seeing the world, not just the creation of physical objects of art.
The apparent use of different languages confused me, and I was trying to work out whether the film was set in Mexico or Europe. I thought the predominant language was Dutch with the occasional German and Spanish. The sight of an RV van and a Chihuahua State number plate later in the film clarified that it was shot in Mexico. The other language was neither Dutch nor German but Plautdietsch, described on Wikipedia as "Mennonite Low German, originally a Low Prussian variety of East Low German".
The film depicts a glimpse into the life of a Mennonite family in crisis. The film references both Sleeping Beauty and Ordet, has been compared to the work of Tarkovsky, yet is a highly original work that I find vastly superior and more compelling than any of these. This is one of my favourite MIFF films and must-see. Kojo Films are the local distributors but, given that they put Mister Lonely straight to DVD, I wouldn't be too optimistic that Silent Light will get a theatrical release. Big screen or small, I highly recommend it.
For what it's worth, this film had the largest walkout of any session I attended at MIFF: I counted 67 departures, most in the first 45 minutes. It's understandable, due to the extremely slow pace of the film, which demands much of an unsuspecting and conventional audience. This was similar to the response of last year's The Man From London, a film with completely different aesthetics, but also moved along at a snail's pace. What some audiences don't appreciate is that this is the point.