Sunday, August 03, 2008

MIFF Day 9

Sat 2 August
Üç maymun (Three Monkeys, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/France/Italy, 2008)
Dead End Drive-In (Brian Trenchard-Smith, Australia, 1986)
Matewan (John Sayles, USA, 1986)

Three Monkeys
Nuri Bilge Ceylan really impressed me with his MIFF 2006 film, Climates, my festival favourite that year. Three Monkeys is no less a film, that I found very, very satisfying. This is what I go to the cinema in search of. And after the previous evening's Lorna's Silence, that's two top films in a row. Both these films have another screening on the last day of the festival and highly recommend them before they sell out. Ceylan's film won Best Director at Cannes this year, and I can see why.

Looking at Ceylan's very slick and informative website, I learnt that he has a long background as a stills photographer. It's worth putting aside some time and exploring this site (which documents both his films and photography), as not only is his work visually remarkable, but it also gives some insight into the photographic aesthetics that inform his film-making.

This guy has an amazing sense of frame. The film's opening scene as the darkness swallows up a passing car, the wind-swept sea- and landscapes, the child's hand appearing out of nowhere all have a breath-taking impact. Another thing that struck me was the cinematography. Shot on high-definition digital, the film uses a stylised palette similar to two films that screened at MIFF last year: Still Life and Alexandra, with strong use of desaturated colours and with a bias towards greens. The transfer to 35mm film was excellent, with none of the graininess of those two other films.

The film is about how small lies become big problems when we adopt the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" position. Ceylan is so accomplished a visual story-teller that he doesn't need to rely so heavily on dialogue or musical cues like most directors. What he depicts of people's inner turmoil is a beautiful experience to behold. This film moved me so much that I have just now ordered everything I can of his works on DVD.

Dead End Drive-In
After last year's festival intensive, I had a better idea of how to plan for this year. Based on past experience of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's work, I made sure the film I saw after it wasn't too deep. What better than a 'throw-away' Ozploitation flick like Dead End Drive-In? I really enjoyed this a lot and can see why Quentin Tarantino is a big fan. I could just imagine his enthusiastic squealing and hooting over the old-style stuntwork, the spirit of which he replicated in Death Proof. In fact, most stylised big-budget Hollywood equivalents today don't even come close with their over-reliance on CGI and manic editing. This film captures something of its era and perhaps, rough as it is, could inspire a return to some of the old (and better) ways of genre film-making.

This is a great-looking film, and it starts out very promising with a strong and recognisable cast. There's a host of actors that I would not have recognised at the time: Chris Cooper and Mary McDonnell, who both performed in Donnie Darko, are there. There's David Strathairn, Will Oldham, James Earl Jones, Gordon Clapp (NYPD Blue) and others.

The story depicts the struggle of coal-miners for decent working conditions and the part that the union played against the mine owners. I enjoyed the film, but found it a bit unnecessarily sentimental at the end. Nonetheless, I was keen to see another film by Sayles, the maker of my favourite family film, The Secret of Roan Inish. I've heard it said that every Sayles film is different to anything else he made. I have a lot more of his work to catch up on.

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