Sunday, August 09, 2009

MIFF 2009 - an Overview

So, how was your MIFF? I went to 35 sessions, one non-film session and saw two of the films outside of the festival. I didn't see many films that impressed me, which was disappointing. Whether that's a reflection of the films overall or my choices, I don't know.

Illness stunted my experience, but I looked after myself and got my health back as quickly as possible and consequently saw more films at the tail-end of the festival than I usually do.

I don't think much of this year's retrospectives. Anna Karina is a pretty face but the five films I saw in that stream all ended up in my "OK But Nothing Special" category. And I figure the Post Punk retrospective was a cost-cutting measure (films cheap to procure), and I saw none of them. They simply didn't interest me at all. On the plus side, I worked out what it is I don't like about Jean-Luc Godard's work, even if that makes me prone to being considered a film philistine. Godard fans seem to share his intolerance for convention, and his anger at people for not getting him and his ideas.

Some prominent names produced films that I enjoyed, even if they weren't showstoppers:
Manoel de Oliveira's Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl, Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum, Alkinos Tsilimidos' Blind Company (perhaps my biggest disappointment, as this was my most anticipated film), Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard and Hirokazu Kore-eda's Still Walking.

There seemed to be a lack of solid films that pack a powerful punch. Perhaps I needed more fun films for variety, like Zift. I even considered catching the second screening of Inglourious Basterds, but couldn't justify a 10:30PM start for a two and a half hour film that opens widely in a less than two weeks.

My favourite of the festival is Haneke's The White Ribbon and nothing came close. Not only is the film very much a Haneke film (and I love his work), but it's also very different to anything I've seen from him. It's complex, intelligent, visually arresting and has a lot to say, without saying it directly. And special mention to Dogtooth, the only other really solid film for me.

So, all up I saw 35 or 36 films (one on DVD while I was sick), compared to 41 I saw each of the previous two years. It was never about quantity and I was happy with the number I saw. I could have crammed another couple in this evening, but with work tomorrow, I knew I'd be sorry.

Next year I think I'll try to watch one or two sessions of shorts. I saw three documentaries this year, which is three more than my previous couple of years. That was a good move, but I don't know if I'd increase that next year. In past years, I found focusing too much on one region (eg Neighbourhood Watch) resulted in too many films that were too alike. I cut back on that stream this year, but there still seemed to be a lot of films that were just OK. Maybe I need to try some horror (ie, Night Shift). Maybe I should try more mainstream films, but I still feel no inclination to go out of my way for films I know are getting a release.

Putting things into perspective, I don't expect films at MIFF to be 'knock-outs'. It's all about the diversity, seeing films from places one normally wouldn't, or of a quality that just don't get released otherwise.

In the weeks leading up to and including MIFF, I received five to ten times my normal traffic to this site. I appreciate that others can take advantage of my efforts and I also appreciate the feedback and comments that others have posted. The intention of this blog is really to do my small bit to galvanise some sort of local film culture, some appreciation of film 'off the beaten track'. I'm hoping that one or two people, maybe more, will keep dropping by post-MIFF and add your 2c worth. There's a lot more film blogs around now than when I started nearly three years ago and hopefully we can see this part of the film culture/community grow.

I have a particular perspective on cinema (and I acknowledge that I need to post some kind of mission statement). It sometimes comes across in my posts, often not. There's limitations to the time and effort I can put into any given post. It is a voluntary (unpaid) labour of love. I am, however, open to criticism, other opinions, debate, enlightenment.

As I've posted elsewhere, numbers seemed to be up significantly this year. Sessions during business hours seemed much better attended than the last couple of years and at least 114 sessions sold out this year (compared to 37 last year). This last weekend, virtually every evening session was sold out.

MIFF scheduled an extra 15 minutes between sessions this year and I thought the results of this were profound. First, it often allowed a stretch of legs between films and it also gave an important buffer for films running late, often due to technical hitches. I never found myself having to race between venues with a couple of minutes to spare. The practical result for me was that there was only one occasion where a film I attended started late. And the festival now has a policy of holding up all films if one film runs late, so one doesn't have to leave a film early to catch the next one. The logistics of the festival from this perspective ran extremely smoothly as far as I am concerned, the best I've seen yet (kudos to those responsible).

Finally, below I've tried to group the films I saw at MIFF according to rough categorisations which are not necessarily accurate, but useful for me. So, how did you go? How was your MIFF experience in 2009?

Pick of the Festival
  • Dogtooth
  • White Ribbon, The
Good Viewing
  • Beaches of Agnès, The
  • Best of the MIFF Shorts
  • Eastern Plays
  • Hurt Locker, The
  • Lake, A
  • Tales from the Golden Age
Good Fun
  • Red Riding: 1974
  • Red Riding: 1980
  • Zift
Quietly Satisfying
  • 35 Shots of Rum
  • Blind Company
  • Bluebeard
  • Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl
  • Man Who Came With the Snow, The
  • Still Walking
  • Whispering of the Trees, The
OK But Nothing Special
  • Alphaville
  • Anna
  • Balibo
  • Chinese Roulette
  • Fish Tank
  • Katalin Varga
  • Maid, The
  • Morphia
  • Pierrot le fou
  • Sweet Rush
  • Tony Manero
  • Villa Amalia
  • Woman is a Woman, A
  • Away We Go
  • Double Take
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Home
  • Red Riding: 1983
  • Who's Afraid of the Wolf?


Kevin Rennie said...

We managed 25 films. 21 reviews done, others following at Cinema Takes. Really liked Bran Nue Dae today. Milk of Sorrows, Mother, Breathless, Blessed and Endgame are all quality films. Henri Clouzot's Inferno and Murch were meta-documentaries for all cinephiles.

Paul Martin said...

Ah, I wanted to see both those docos. I especially heard amazing things about the latter. I had tickets to Bran Nue Dae but chose to see another (which I didn't regret) because I'm sure the closing night film will get a release. I heard good things about Mother, but mixed on Blessed (which, of course, has a release so wasn't a festival priority).

Those who were at the festival 'full-time' are most likely to have films that coincide with my choices. The business hours choices are quite limited: generally you have one children's film at ACMI or one adult film at Forum. Otherwise, yes it's amazing how few films in each person's program can coincide.

Trent Vittorio said...

I only went on a minipass, but I was happy with my choices: to me, Mother was excellent, and I was really impressed by Moon, Che (judging by the walkouts I was in the minority on that one), In The Loop and Black Dynamite (destined to become a cult favourite).

To be honest, Tales from the Golden Age was the only film I saw that I didn't completely enjoy: I just found it really uneven, although it certainly had its moments. And I love Godard so seeing his films on the big screen was fantastic for me, but he certainly is an acquired taste.

Thanks for your posts throughout the festival: very informative!

via collins said...

Hi Paul,

I don't know how you find time to write in such great detail, but I enjoy having the site here as an anchor to the experience, so congratulations again, and thanks for the effort.

I only saw a few, but had far more hits than misses:

Agree with you on White Ribbon, the gentle escalation of tension, and the Haneke-tease of never letting the viewer know entirely what is going on worked a treat. However, for tension ratchetted up to the highest level, I can't go past Hurt Locker. An extraordinary film I just can't get out of my head. As both these films will get wide release post-MIFF, I'm not sure to what degree they are "festival films" per se.

Definitely in that category are Louise-Michel, 35 Shots of Rhum, Still Walking, Tales From a Golden Age, and About Elly. 5 completely different films that all swung from very good to excellent I thought. And the odd Belgian pic, The Misfortunates, is not far behind either. That was a bit of a programming punt I reckon, and paid off handsomely.

Mother is another chapter in the works of the best director operating in the world today. Bong Joon Ho's catalogue is small, but perfect. I would walk across fire to watch anything he makes. Mother is so odd and angular in the context of the market, i fear it may remain a festival film. Which is a real shame.

Sadly, I can't agree with you on the mechanics of the fest. Of the 13 films I saw, not one ran on time, and the two 9.15pm sessions ran 20 mins+ late, one had disastrous projection issues too. On the upside, our prayers were answered, midfest it seemed - someone actually murdered the Yalumba ad, and adjusted it to a more tolerable edit. That may well be the highlight of my 2009 MIFF experience.

Thanks again for the effort Paul.

Paul Martin said...

Funny that, Trent, because I thought the different stories in Tales From The Golden Age worked well together, as if it were one film. I liked that the mood changed as the stories progressed - from black comedy to social realism.

Via collins, I deliberately don't schedule too many films, so that I have time to sleep and write. I also organise myself well before the festival to facilitate quick posts. I write on everything I see, though obviously not in-depth.

I pretty much agree with you on The Hurt Locker but I don't think it's quite as good as say Beaufort (MIFF 2007), which it is similar to.

I had one late session, ie, about 15 minutes or so late. There may have been a few that were 2-5 minutes late, but I don't count those as being late. VC, I take it most of your sessions were after work? I didn't get to many late sessions, where lateness is more likely.

I didn't see that Yalumba cunt until towards the end of the festival. I couldn't believe it that after nearly two weeks, he should pop up. But that Yalumba tune really shits me, even if they have a new ad.

Thanks all for your appreciation.

David O'Connell said...

Hey Paul,

I saw just the 13 films too but thought they were of a fairly decent standard overall, ranging from excellent to good.

I find it hard to pick a clear top favourite. I'd probably choose between Bronson, North and Breathless.

Bronson's unconventional structure, approach to storytelling and staggering central performance from Tom Hardy definitely put it up there.

Breathless is an amazing Korean film which is so different to anything I've seen from that country. The dirty, gritty edge and constant profanity really ground it in a social reality I haven't seen from them before. Yet underneath it all there's this incredibly powerful humanism. An amazing work from star/writer/director Yang Ik-joon. This guy's a powerhouse, a real force of nature.

Like you, I loved Dogtooth after having fairly low expectations just prior to seeing it. It was late at night - and like you also, I was suffering from a cold all Festival which was horrible timing to say the least!- and I nearly gave it a miss. Thankfully I didn't and was mesmerised by it. My only trouble with it? The damn subtitles which were difficult to dicipher at times - the white against light clothing especially in scenes around the table were very frustrating! (maybe I was just sitting too far back and weary from fatigue!)

I also loved An Education and Katalin Varga; the former for its witty, brilliant screenplay by Nick Hornby, and the latter for its ominous, pervasive mood.

Villa Amalia, The Chaser, Blubeard, Eden Lake and The Girlfriend Experience were all decent without being films you'd rave madly about to anyone.

I was disappointed in 35 Shots of Rum to be honest which I felt, despite its likeable characters and profound humanity, was a little on the dull side. I'll look forward to seeing it again some day but it felt quite underwhelming for the most part.

The only 'dud' of the Festival for me was Two Lines, thankfully the first film I saw. Utterly forgettable.

The only one screening at MIFF that I'd seen previously was The Hurt Locker and I concur with the positive notices it's received. I saw a couple of months back and was blown away by it - it still remains vivid. Easily the best thing Kathryn Bigelow has ever done.

Anyway, take care Paul and great work on the site, I'm having a great time going through your back-catelogue of reviews and afterthoughts.

dmk said...

It's a shame you didn't see The Nun. Rivette is always good value, and out of all the films screening that I've seen, it's easilly the best one.

Jurguens said...

This year I so just a few movies, too few. The White Ribbon, United Red Army and Mother were excellent. Dead Snow is a great fun zombie films if you are fan of the genre, and it has enough original and creative touches to make it interesting. Ecstacy of the Angels was quite an experience but I still don't know how to rate, you just have to see it to believe it.

via collins said...

Agreed that "The Nun" was a super film, but surely the French cinematheque could pull together a few euros and strike a new print? That was possibly the worst print I've seen screened in any festival.

Anonymous said...

I saw a mini-pass dose of films and really enjoyed all the ones I caught, even if no one film really moved the earth for me. I loved Paper Soldier, which no one has yet mentioned I don't think, it was beuatiful with a seductive rhythm. And I am so very happy that I saw Zift - made my day and I was nearly going to skip it. Thanks for your blog Paul - it's great

Glenn Dunks said...

I love that your second favourite of the fest was the one film I walked out on. Amazing that such polar reactions can occur.

Some people who don't go to festivals often seem to have a belief that every film at them are meant to be classics so are always disappointed. But I had a good festival in that most of the films I saw were in the B+ to B- range. A couple above that ("Fish Tank" and "Prodigal Sons") and a few below ("Hansel & Gretel", Treeless Mountain").

Overall, quite satisfied and I think I chose a nice spectrum of titles for myself.

Paul Martin said...

MIFF - so many films, so little time. I would have liked to have seen The Nun, Mother, United Red Army among others, but one can only do what one can. I don't get angst-ridden about it like I once did.

Actually Glenn, The White Ribbon was easily my favourite; Fish Tank was around the middle. FWIW, most of my films hovered around the 3 stars mark.

Kevin Rennie said...

You must try to see Milk of Sorrows, our first and best.

Lynden Barber said...

Roadshow has announced it's releasing The Hurt Locker direct to DVD, So those of you who saw it on the big screen at MIFF - smart move.

Paul Martin said...

Lynden, when I saw from the MIFF program that Roadshow was distributing The Hurt Locker, I emailed them (prior to MIFF) specifically to enquire about its release. They assured me then (and this was in June) that the film was not getting a theatrical release.

Consequently, I listed it on my 'MIFF Films with a Release' page accordingly. Had I known that due to the film's popularity that it would get a release, I probably would not have seen it. I'm glad I did, and it was my third favourite at MIFF 2009.

I had heard a rumour, mostly from Glenn at Stale Popcorn, that the film was going straight to DVD. And now you're confirming it. I suppose Roadshow got cold feet, and considering the large numbers of less risky films about at the moment, it's perhaps not surprising, albeit disappointing.