Tuesday, July 28, 2009

MIFF 2009 Day 5 - 28/7/09

Day 5 and still no knock-out films I've seen. What about you?
  • Home (Ursula Meier, Switzerland/France/Belgium, 2008)
  • Red Riding: 1974 (Julian Jarrold, UK, 2009)
  • Katalin Varga (Peter Strickland, Romania/UK/Hungary, 2009)
I wanted to see this film on the strength of my fascination with Isabelle Huppert, who is perhaps my favourite actress. Huppert is obviously sought for her unusual talents: her ability to display both strength and fragility - often concurrently - and her ability to take on very demanding roles. She seems to be drawn to the types of roles and films that also draw me. They're often in small films, like Home, a film I'd describe as not one of Huppert's finest choices.

A family is living within spitting distance of a disused highway, which is effectively their front yard. Life is about to change drastically when, with little warning, it is resurfaced and consequently re-opened to traffic. Privacy is lost, noise and fumes intrude and the family's routine is completely transformed, upsetting the domestic balance.

The scenario is quite inventive and executed effectively, at least visually. I was wondering throughout the film how they were able to realistically create the whole set-up, especially the transformation of an old highway to a new one. The family dynamics are mostly well-developed and the film sucks us into its world... to a point. Unfortunately, the various elements of the film's narrative don't stick and plausibility becomes an issue. As the film progresses, it becomes less and less believable.

Wouldn't the respective statutory authorities give more warning? Wouldn't they provide more amenity, like access to the property? Would the family really imprison themselves? The MIFF synopsis describes the film as a "social farce" that "teeters on the verge of comedy", but that wasn't my perception at all. It seemed very much a social drama/family drama. The film looks nice, but the story is inconsistent and Meier doesn't seem to make the most of her good ideas.

Red Riding: 1974
Julian Jarrold isn't exactly what I'd call an exciting director, but was prepared to give this British crime thriller a go based on good word-of-mouth. It immediately reminds me of the French Public Enemy no.1/Mesrine starring Vincent Cassell, but is not quite as strong. It is very entertaining as a mainstream genre film and feels like a tele-movie.

The film's set-up is not too bad, though some devices seemed a bit too Underbelly-populist, like the sex and nudity. The film is based on a novel, and frames a fiction around real-crime events, namely the Yorkshire Ripper. The film does get a bit silly as it progresses, but it still had my heart palpitating and palms sweating, so it does work on its intended level. The verdict: fun, lots of energy and exciting, but not must-see material. Wait for DVD or TV; who knows, it might get a theatrical release. I'm still planning to see the next instalment, Red Riding: 1980, and I have higher hopes for this as it's directed by James Marsh whose previous films include Man on Wire and The King, my no.2 favourite film of 2006.

Katalin Varga
I don't have much to say about this film; basically I found it pretty ordinary. A woman is ostracised from her village after an affair and consequently exacts revenge on men who wronged her many years earlier. My biggest problem with the film concerns how she catches up with these guys and the impossible coincidences involved. There are other technical problems, like the use of sound and sometimes sub-standard visuals, but I could overlook those. I gave myself a lower threshold for walking out, and could have walked out on this at any point, but it was enjoyable enough to go along with the ride and stay. It's only 84 minutes long, so that was a plus (not very flattering, though, eh?).


Anonymous said...

I think Home would've been far more effective as a Short Film. As a feature, it drags considerably - even at 95 minutes.

The more I think about it, the less I like it. But it was certainly enjoyable enough for a view. I'd never watch it again however.


Paranoid Android said...

I didn't get much out of Red Riding either. The trilogy is in fact a series of tele-movies, as you guessed. They were made by Britain's Channel 4, I believe as an attempt to show they were capable of making big-budget entertainment along the lines of HBO and Showtime in the USA. Still puzzles me why MIFF are running them (and why they're a big deal), as they only ever aired on TV in the UK. Seems like more filler to me.

Anonymous said...

Funniest shit I've seen so far - Black Dynamite!

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul, I've seen a couple of standout films "Thirst" by the director of Oldboy - yet another take on the vampire genre and "Out Rage" a highly entertainly doco on gay politicans who remain in the closet. I was unable to see "In The Loop" but found it elsewhere and heartily recommend it - very funny film.

Apart from that saw a good thriller "Troubled Water" and two decidley boring films that I walked out of (Land of Scarcrows and All About Actresses).

I'm awaiting several films in the post to screenings I couldn't attend so will comment once I get them.

Would highly recommend "martyrs" to you, a fine french horror.



Paul Martin said...

PA, Red Riding is good for diversity and I think there's a lot of people who would enjoy this, even if it's not especially my thing. Each of the trilogy is by a different director, so I'm keeping an open mind about the others.

Anon, Black Dynamite certainly looks funny, but it's also likely to get a release.

Stefan, you're obviously into horror, not really my thing. Thirst has had a good rap, so I might catch it if it gets a release (it's currently screening in Sydney cinemas). Thanks for the recommendations.

Toby said...

Gee, there's a few stinkers at MIFF this year!

David O'Connell said...

Hey Paul, it's always interesting to read a totally opposing view. I saw Katalina Varga last night too and absolutely loved it!
As well as being a film nut, I'm also a film score nut and love the daring, up-front use of music - including instrumental source music - even when it's as unsubtle as this.

I understand most people would probably regard it as utterly inappropriate and that it swallows the film at times, but on this occasion I willingly allowed it to envelop me in its atmospheric fog - and a pretty creepy one at that, I thought!

The film had me hooked from the start to be honest. It the qualities of a dream with those impressionistic moments uniting sound and image layered throughout the narrative.

Considering the miniscule budget and years it took to make, I thought the end result was impressive. I loved the lead actress too; she had some intangible quality that held me spellbound.

You're probably wondering if we saw the same film right about now!! ;)

Paul Martin said...

Toby, I don't see the festival line-up as any better or worse than any other year. There's always films I want to avoid and much of my MIFF preparation/research is working out which films to avoid and, of course, which to see. I don't expect every film to be a 'knock-out'. It's the diversity of cinema that's of most interest, the opportunity to see things that won't get a release.

Paul Martin said...

You're probably wondering if we saw the same film. Not at all, David. There's elements in Katalina Varga that I like and flaws I could overlook, but it doesn't pull it off for me. The two coincidences were just too much for me to suspend disbelief.

I agree with your opinion of the lead; she has an unusual charm.

via collins said...

I've adopted a very restrained approach this year, and it's paid off to date!

"Tales From the Golden Age" sparkles brilliantly, and "About Elly" is ingenius in its ability to sew Iranian social issues into a pretty darned tense social drama. Some cracking acting in this one.

That's two good films from two viewings, but agree with commenter above - it's an extremely lacklustre line-up.

Joel H said...

Katalin Varga

I too found the sound a little too overbearing and mismatching. Felt like I was watching some 80's horror thriller or somesuch. I guess thought that it does create a juxtaposition set against the rural nature of the film... and this has its own effect.

Didn't find the visuals too exciting, but the scene in the row boat was great to watch.
Am i write in saying the sboat changed directions and was (clockwise/anticlockwise) and was spinning on the spot?

Paul Martin said...

Joel, one gets a sense of what the director is attempting with the sound, but it just seems clumsy to me and doesn't quite work.

I'm ambivalent about the boat scene. It was initially quite enjoyable, but confusing. The apparent change of direction could have been due to the reverse shot, but I'm not sure. But it was spinning to excess and ultimately distracted from the initial visual construct. One could be excused for thinking the boat was spinning - and I think it must have been when filmed in close-up - but when we see it from a distance, it's not.

The narration of the girl's story as the camera kept doing an extreme close up of the guy was way overdone as well. I could see where this was going, and to give us the close up 4 or more times spoiled the intended effect. Basically, there's a lack of trust in the audience to get it.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the festival line-up as any better or worse than any other year.

You don't really believe this, do you? Compared to last year's, 2009's program does not compare at all.

In 2008, other than some really great new releases, it also had that Edward Yang retrospective AND those Ozploitation screenings.
This year's has that silly Punk thing, and a handful of films starring Anna Karina. The new films aren't anything interesting either.

Paul Martin said...

Anon, funds could be a factor in the Punk retro. I stand by the comment of mine you quoted; I think much of is the luck of the draw, the choices you make.