July 28, 2011

Getting more than a tad MIFFed (part two)

I continued on my merry, MIFFy way with four more movies spread over Monday and Tuesday.

Give Up Tomorrow is a stunning documentary about a horrifying miscarriage of justice in the Phillipines. When two girls go missing and are presumed dead, seven kids are accused of the crime, including a teenager named Paco Larrañega who can prove he was 350 miles away at the time. There are his school enrolment records, more than two dozen eye-witnesses, and even photographs! The twists and turns of his increasingly desperate attempts to win his freedom from the hopelessly corrupt Fillipino justice system form the substance of this amazing movie.

I can't say much about Give Up Tomorrow, except this: see it, if you get the chance. About twenty minutes into the film, the filmmaker had already set up Paco's obvious innocence and the conspiracy to frame him, and I found myself wondering where else the movie could possibly go? The answer, horrifyingly, is further. And further, until each new revelation is like a fresh stab in the gut. It's an incredible story, and a truly remarkable film.

Another doco, Armadillo, is just as remarkable in its own way. Portraying the six month tour of duty of a Danish squad in Afghanistan, Armadillo does a great job of getting inside the heads of the young soldiers. They must have become incredibly comfortable with the presence of the camera, because they let their guards down completely: to the point where, in one disturbing moment, a couple of the more boorish among them make jokes about (what seems to me to be) a war crime they've just committed. It's truly amazing footage, and I'd be fascinated to know what became of these guys once the film was shown in Denmark.

On the whole, Armadillo didn't quite live up to its best moments. There were a number of strange choices the filmmakers had made (including structuring the whole film in such a way as to infer a very particular 'something' about one of the soldiers, but never in any way confirming that it was true ... so the whole unspoken 'accusation' felt unjust) which held it back from being sublime. Still, being pretty great is still pretty great, know what I mean?

Veteran Japanese provocateur Takashi Miike returns to MIFF with 13 Assassins, which is easily the most accessible film of his that I've ever seen. Essentially a stock-standard Dirty Dozen-style story --- the head samurai dispatches his protege to take out an evil lord in a clandestine operation, said protege gathers a small team, they train for a while, then they go kick arse --- there's not a lot about 13 Assassins that isn't pretty predictable. But it doesn't matter a whit, because it's done with such assured style, and with such blood-spattering, flaming-bison-stampeding, severed-head-rolling zeal. It's a "Check your mind at the door and just have a friggin' blast" movie, and on those terms, it succeeds perfectly.

The muted Korean end of the world flick End of Animal was another film that had some really interesting elements, but wasn't able to maximise them. After a great first scene (in which a cabbie and his fare, a pregnant university student, pick up a psychic hitchhiker who informs them the world will end in five minutes time ... and it does), the film tailed off, its deadly slow pace quashing our interest in the post-apocalyptic setting and the random plot slipping out of the directors grasp and never adding up to any cohesive whole.

I've got a bunch more films tomorrow and on Friday, but before then I should give a shout out to Josh Nelson and Thomas Caldwell. They're both acquaintances from my Uni days (Josh took one of my film studies tutes, and Thomas and I acted together in an amateur stage production of Catch-22 --- it was awesome), neither of whom I've seen in about ten years, until suddenly at MIFF 2011 we seem to be sitting together and chatting in every single session. I can't quite figure out if I'm stalking them or they're stalking me. Regardless, they both write about movies in a far more considered, intelligent way than I do, Josh at Philmology and Thomas at Cinema Autopsy, where he's taking part in MIFF's blog-a-thon ... and, I suspect, swiftly going mad.

Cheers, JC.

currently reading: Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser
books to go: 100

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