August 20, 2012

MIFF 2012, Mhghdrfqxhzz! (part four)

Bleurghelblahrgelbleurgh. So ... tired. So ... many ... movies. After I finish writing this and post it up, I think I'm going to lie down for a while. But I made it through, God damn it. 28 movies in 17 days is the final reckoning (which honestly doesn't sound that impressive when you say it like that ... there's gotta be a way of making those numbers seem more epic).

My only animated film of the festival, Metropia is (I think) Swedish in origin, but it was kind of an international stew: it had cast members from all over the Northern Hemisphere (including Stellan and Alexander Skarsgaard, giving their performances in different accents!). In a dystopian future, every underground rail system in Europe has been joined together, and super-fast trains make continent-wide travel a possibility. There's also a conspiracy involving mind-control dandruff shampoo. And ... and ... yeah, okay, I've been trying for twenty minutes to write a plot summary, but I don't think I can, because it made no God-damn sense. It was super stylish, and great to look at if you can handle a movie that's 95% different shades of dank grey. I don't even really know how to describe the animation style: it was kind of flat, like South Park or something, but photo-real at the same time. Unfortunately it was pretty much incomprehensible, and thus pretty boring.

From Senegal, The Pirogue tells the story of a fisherman coerced into captaining a frail vessel filled with immigrants up the coast of Africa and across the mouth of the Mediterranean to Spain. The voyage doesn't go well: inclement weather, in-fighting amongst the various factions of passengers, and the crappiness of the boat itself, all combine to cast them adrift in the Atlantic. It's obviously a really dramatic subject, and certain scenes in the movie were jaw-dropping in their horribleness. Unfortunately it was too episodic and too simplistic to have the emotional punch it should have. And while some of the actors were great, others were pitching their performances well over the top. Interesting moments, but not a good film.

Okay, I made the point in one of my other MIFF round-up posts that FILM-MAKERS NEED TO KNOW HOW LONG THEIR MOVIE OUGHT TO BE. The guy that made In The Fog, a WWII drama from Belarus, had no friggin' idea. In Nazi-held territory, two partisans sneak up to a house in the forest, determined to mete out justice to the suspected collaborator who lives there. When the execution doesn't go according to plan, the three men have to journey through the forest together, and at the same time we get a series of extended flashbacks, explaining how each of them has arrived at this moment in time. There's plenty of meaty drama there (and the flashback explaining why the guy is suspected of being a collaborator is gut-wrenching) but it's kinda ruined by the glacial pace, the insistence on lengthy 'walking through forest' shots that add nothing to the story, and the way the two other flashbacks don't illuminate anything about the main thread of the story. Like The Pirogue, there were moments that suggested a much better movie lurking beneath the surface, but it was buried in pretentious twaddle.

And then here it was, two days from the end, that the best film of the festival showed up. From Denmark, Thomas Vinterberg's searing, horrifying, The Hunt is about a kindergarten teacher who is falsely accused of paedophilia. As an entire town gets caught up in the hysteria that the accusations cause, lifelong relationships are destroyed and previously unbreakable trusts are shattered. There is nothing about this film that wasn't brilliant: every single actor is remarkable, giving everybody in the enormous ensemble the depth of a fully fleshed out interior life; the direction is clear and graceful, telling the story with perfect elegance but without ever intruding on the audience's notice; the cinematography is equally good, dancing on the line between being beautiful and being unstudied; and the script is almost miraculous in the way that it combines air-tight cause and effect storytelling, a rigorous dedication to 'realness', and an ability to find symbolic meaning in everyday life. This film was basically perfect, and I'm sure I'll be talking about it again when the time comes to write about the best movies of 2012. The Hunt is a bonafide masterpiece, and I urge everyone to see it if you can.

Last year I saw and very much enjoyed a Korean gangster movie called The Yellow Sea (though to be fair, it ran off the rails a bit towards the end), so I thought I'd give Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time a crack this year, in the hope it might be just as entertaining. Unfortunately, this one felt really tonally scattered, never quite sure if it ought to be a broad farce, or high melodrama, or something in between. After getting fired, an inept loudmouth of a customs officer decides to try and use some of his family connections to become a gangster. As crap as he is at basically everything, he still manages to worm his way into a position of power in the gang of his great nephew, from which point he starts fucking everything up. The film was at its best when it was a comedy: the protagonist's wimpiness offered plenty of laughs as he tried and failed to adapt to the gangster lifestyle. When it reached for drama, though, it was hard to give a damn. Having treated the whole story as mere comedy, it suddenly seemed a bit unfair when bombastic music came on and I was expected to care deeply about this bumbling prat's fate. Also hampering the film was the fact that the crime story, with double and triple and quadruple crosses aplenty, just didn't make a lick of damn sense!

The writer and actor Brit Marling was one of the people behind Another Earth, one of my favourite films at MIFF 2011. She was back again this year, co-writing and starring in Sound of my Voice, about two dating quasi-journalists infiltrating a cult that is led by a young woman who claims to have time-travelled from the future. Like Another Earth, Voice is a low-budget indie drama with a bit of a sic-fi bent, and it's just as good (if not better) than the first film. The scenes inside the cult are filled with genuine mystery and a real sense of unease, and the further the journalists (and the audience) go, the more questions get raised. Apart from Marling, who played the cult leader with an eerie stillness, I don't know any of the other actors but they're all uniformly fantastic (especially Christopher Denham as the guy who starts out the more cynical of the two journos, but doesn't end that way). As things get weirder and the stakes get higher, the central couple's relationship fractures under the strain, and for about the last half an hour I was watching with my hand over my mouth. It's a stifling, sad, almost unbearably tense little film, and well worth a look.

Christos Tsiolkas' Dead Europe is a magnificent novel, but I already told you that months ago. When I heard there was going to be an adaptation, I was filled with equal parts anticipation and dread: I knew if they got it right, it could be brilliant, but if they got it wrong, it could very easily be a disaster of cosmic proportions. How did they go in the end? Honestly, Dead Europe pretty much splits the middle between those two extremes. It only took about five minutes for me to understand that they'd taken a chainsaw to the plot of the book (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), so I was able to let go of my expectations. And for the most part, their new, slimmed down version of the story worked quite well. It was a wonderfully atmospheric film, the music and cinematography combining to make us feel like the main character's doom was haunting him from the moment he stepped off his plane in Greece. Though episodic, the film doled out just enough information, and made just enough sense, for me to hang with it for most of its running time ... then unfortunately they blew the ending in spectacular fashion. Just as everything's coming to a head, and the plot and themes demand some kind of resolution, the film just cops out in the most infuriating way. I don't want to go into more detail, because that would spoil the ending, but it's flat-out disastrous. If the projector had broken down five minutes from the end, I'd have rated it a pretty good film; as is, I can only consider it a missed opportunity.

And that, mhghdrfqxhzz, is that. This was a pretty fantastic MIFF for me, I'd rate about half the films I saw as sitting somewhere between 'good' and 'great' on John's Scale Of Movie's Worth. Trust me when I tell you that proportion is pretty extraordinary. The Hunt and War Witch were the stand-outs, but there are heaps of films tied for third place. Guessing a film's quality based on the tiny blurb in the festival guide is a fool's game, but this year I got a lot of stuff right (umm ... does that make me a fool?). Anyways, thanks for reading, I'm off to bed.

Cheers, JC.

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