A brief note: this was a very low-budget shoot by our standards, so we shot it on my GH1. I’ll post more GH1 details later, as I’ve now had a fair bit of time with the camera and it’s worth reporting back in about that.
I was going to do separate, detailed posts for everything I loved, but I’m going to have to freeball it here quickly or I’ll never get around to it. So here are all the rest of the films that I saw:
Along with Ondine, Enter the Void and Hadewijch, one of the best I saw. It’s a brilliantly inventive Greek film about three kids raised to believe some crazy bullshit. Works as a comedy, drama, and parable.
Neil Jordan sure can write. He makes what could be a jumbled mess of genres and topics come across as a modern fable. Quite impressive – also great music & Irish people, including Mr. Farrell.
The Loved Ones
Entertaining, unpredictable, and shallow Australian horror-comedy. Fun, better than most US horror releases, but ain’t no Citizen Kane.
Youth in Revolt
Felt like it had a half hour cut out of it. Meandering, charming Michael Cera flick that I’m sure will kill at the box office.
Superior Spanish jailhouse thriller in which a prison guard poses as an inmate during a prison riot / revolution. Will undoubtedly be remade stateside starring Sly Stallone and Ving Rhames or whomever.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Yes this movie is real, hilarious, and (hopefully) the start of the world’s most unlikely film franchise. It’s refreshing to like Nick Cage in a movie again, but he’s still performing and not acting. Come for the iguanas, stay for the lucky crack pipe.
Fascinating film with little substance but some great technique and some psychological insights. For more, read Ram’s review-, with which I agree.
Riveting, powerful Mexican police thriller about murdered women in Juarez that winds up being about much more than that.
Patience-testing but ultimately rewarding surrealist comedy about a Mexican wrestler and a guy who wakes up in a mysterious white room. Battling with Trash Humpers in my mind for weird-funny champion of the festival. Need to learn more about this dude
The Disappearance of Alice Creed
Workmanlike but unremarkable low-budget British thriller.
The Front Line
Italian historical thriller falls down as its confused structure doesn’t help us sympathize with some left-wing guerilla/terrorists.
Documentary about Berlusconi and his media empire. Floats around the edge of the ring with three topical, eccentric characters, but never lands the knockout punch.
That was everything. Phew. It was quite a week. I also wanted to jot down some impressions of the fest as a whole, but we’ll see what Lady Time gives me this week.
I’m a couple days late with these write-ups. Clearly I would make a bad film critic.
Gaspar Noé‘s Irreversible was a hugely shocking and audacious film, and someone’s slipped a tab in his drink since then, as Enter the Void amps it up a few dB in scale, ambition, technique, discipline, and frustration. In a nutshell, it’s modeled on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and follows a small-time drug dealer as he gets high, gets killed, and navigates the afterlife. It takes the concept of the point of view shot to a whole new level, and applies a strict video game perspective to each of multiple states of being. Oscar’s real life is seen in the first person, with the camera literally where his eyes are, and includes blinking, his thoughts (muttered monologue), and even his DMT-induced hallucinations. His deathbed flashbacks to his past life are shown in the third person, with the back of Oscar’s head visible in the foreground. His bodyless ghost-floating is seen from spiralling overhead shots.
These techniques are applied unrelentingly. If Oscar’s spirit wishes to follow a different friend, the camera flies across the city and finds that friend. And if a scene is to play out from this point of view, it does so, all from above, with no cutting in to closeups.
It’s a grimy neon afterlife that Noé has us enter, as Oscar the ghost drug dealer navigates a nighttime Tokyo populated by drug-addled artists, predatory dealers, and most importantly his stripper sister, with whom he has a quote unquote special bond. Oscar’s past, while not without some cliched happy moments, is scarred by a violent, traumatic incident. Noé shows us everything in unnecessary detail, as if to rub our noses in the gore of human misery.
It’s a sleazy and somewhat dull world, to be truthful. Oscar and his sister never take on the dimensions of real characters and it’s hard to form any bonds with them. I get the impression that this film is a cautionary tale, and Noé does not respect his characters. The dialogue is consistently mundane. A particularly frustrating scene toward the end, which could have been powerfully emotional, is almost laughably blunt.
Noé is anything but subtle. When I tell you that the film’s based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I know this not because I’ve read it or because it’s visible in the corner of the frame on a character’s shelf, but rather because the characters talk repeatedly about it, describing its contents and laying out the course of the film for those up in the cheap seats.
Also, the purity of the technique starts to get in the way of the storytelling. The need to ghost-cam fly across the city to follow different characters basically adds a 30-second whip pan every time we switch from A- to B-plot. Likewise, the playing out of long take scenes in single overhead shots gets tiresome, and bloats an already challenging film past the two-and-a-half hour mark.
That’s the frustration, that Noé doesn’t climb down from the lofty heights of the concept and the technique and make a real story out of this thing. All the same, he’s achieved some amazing shit here, and fans of formalism and/or the seedy afterlife will want to check this film out.
So much of film reception is expectation. I went in to this Harmony Korine film having heard bad things, and was just saying to Jenn “we may well walk out of this,” when Korine concluded his introductory remarks by saying, basically, if you’re the sort of person who walks out on movies, might as well do it now. It was a challenge (a throwdown, hell no I can’t slow down) that I accepted almost unconsciously, and I realize now it reset my expectations to near zero.
If you are expecting an experimental work of artistic merit, Trash Humpers may well fall short. I don’t think Korine is playing in the big leagues with this one, which is not to say he couldn’t if he tried. However, if you treat this as a bizarre sketch comedy feature, one step weirder than Tim & Eric, say, you may well enjoy it, as I did.
The Trash Humpers are four southerners who wear creepy old-person masks and, well, hump trash. And trees, and walls, and whatever else. They also smash TVs, vandalize things, break into homes, and kill people, all the while muttering, grunting, singing atonally and/or laughing like sick hyenas. There is no plot to speak of, only a collection of scenes featuring the central characters, and other supporting characters drift in and out freely. The film is shot on VHS, meant to capture an archival quality, as if you might find the tape in a dead person’s things and wonder just what the fuck they were up to. As such, the director/cameraman Korine is also one of the Humpers, and shows up more and more toward the end of the film.
One one hand I’m tempted to criticize the film for lacking cohesion, and argue that it could have benefited from a more targeted sense of mystery. You can’t help but project some onto it (was there a falling out among the humpers? Whose baby did the lady humper steal?), but I do not imagine this is a Mulholland Drive-level puzzle waiting to be solved, if by Korine’s own explanation of it afterwards. I’d also propose it might fare better as a YouTube channel rather than a feature. On the other hand, it’s easier to just let the film be what it is, which is a fuckin’ weird 76 minutes of weird shit going down.
Mmm, my third day of TIFF was much better. Perhaps it’s equal parts personal adjustment to queuing and crowds (something I go way out of my way to avoid in regular life), better choices of film, and all around better luck. I mean, no one likes rushing around to line up for films you find okay or kinda hate, but if the films are good, you take it with a grain of salt, yeah?
Bruno Dumont’s Hadewijch was my starter in the morning, and I was quite into it. I confess it’s the first Dumont film I’ve seen, but won’t be the last: it’s a fascinating meditation on religion perfectly married to a compelling plot.
Daybreakers was next. I tried to only get tickets to films that weren’t about to get a release, but in certain cases I couldn’t help myself. If you say “sci-fi vampire film,” I mean I’ve actually watched Bava’s Planet of the Vampires, know what I mean? This had its flaws – wooden dialogue, a little too earnest – but made up for them in sheer inventiveness and entertainment value. Despite the daylight scheduling, the screening was classic midnight madness, with a whooping crowd and a great warm-up from Colin Geddes.
I finished the day with the brooding Viking film Valhalla Rising, another film from a filmmaker I’m slightly ashamed to be unfamiliar with, Nicolas Winding Refn. It was like Bergman doing Conan the Barbarian, with perhaps a little too much emphasis on mood and enigma at the expense of depth. But it gets bonus points for a disembowelment and a mute, one-eyed protagonist like someone from a Leone flick.
My scheduling was still poor today, with a scant 15 minutes to get from film to film, but my trusty bike got me there on time. Directors were present for all three films, but because of my rushed scheduling I only got to hear the Q&A for the last one, which I regret. It’s probably better to allow a lot more time between flicks, especially as they tend to start late.
Man my festival experience is not shaping up well so far. The weeks preceding it are full of articles with words like “buzz,” “star” and “carpet” which make me rage-tingle a little. My first film – my fault for choosing it, I’m sure – is a 900-hour-long art travesty that features 5-minute takes of people sleeping. The film this morning is Rwanda: The Day God Walked Away which is actually fairly decent, but still smacks of art-colonialism as the funding and writer-director are French. I skip Jennifer’s Body because a sandwich now sounds like a more exciting proposition, and then at the AMC for All Fall Down, which hardly sounds like a line-up attractor, I’m forced into Satan’s Own Line which contains people who are lining up for two other, surely more “buzz-worthy” films, and we are all screamed at by ferocious, sex-starved volunteers to pack closer together, then told my film will in fact leave the line, then when I do I’m told I should get back in the line – to the back of the line I just left. What the fuck? I impulsively walk out, whether because of personal sense of outrage, my introvert’s severe dislike of lines, or a purely rational calculation that I would rather pay the $10 value of the ticket than remain in that art scum fattening pen.
It’s too bad, I would have liked to have seen that film.
The whole festival so far has a villainous feel to it, Mos Eisley for corporate sponsors, Indiewood marketers and the aspirational middle class, where people line up to exchange cash for artistic cachet. Because of the money I paid, I can now have a delightfully scathing opinion of Face, or a somber, scolding recommendation for the genocide flick, or crow that I’ve seen the shitty Diablo Cody film two weeks before it sits empty in regular schmuck theatres.
Maybe I should stick to my fucking downloads.
Nah, I’m sure this will get better, it’s the weekend and the daytime screenings will thin out during the week, and I think my picks will be more agreeable even as of tomorrow. But I’m starting to think Jesus invented Blu-Ray so I could avoid bullshit like this.