Tuesday, August 24, 2010

That was the MIFF that was

And not before time.

Here's an A-Z account of films seen that screened at the 2010 MIFF, with a few words on anything I didn't find time or energy to write about nearer the day, and even fewer words about anything that I did, accompanied by a link to the corresponding previous writings, whether written whilst having A Little Lie Down, or for a festival report published in Senses of Cinema.

The following includes next to no words on films to have already received a general release, or which are very, very soon to. I'll endeavour to catch up on the likes of The Special Relationship, Splice, Four Lions, Boy and The Killer Inside Me in a separate future post.


A lovely, languorous look at the lives of a few current day, existentially angsty Hanoi dwellers.

There's a little more on Adrift within my report for Senses of Cinema on the 2010 Fribourg International Film Festival.

Air Doll

Air Doll
Setting the action in a tumbledown Tokyo far removed from the neon-drenched playground for drug addled young émigrés depicted in Enter the Void (about which, finally, more below), Hirokazu Koreeda casts a little magic realist spell upon a sex doll and brings it to life (as embodied by Korean actress Bae Doona), all awhile enshrouding proceedings in a haze of melancholia.

While Air Doll's mood is all very minor key, and its ending is horrific, the film it most reminds me of is Edgar Wright and friends' wonderful, ultimately upbeat rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead. The premise of both films seems much the same: in an everyday megalopolis, everybody around you could overnight turn into killer zombies/animate sex dolls, and you'd be none the wiser.

(Speaking of Edgar Wright, I haven't yet seen Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which, on MIFF's final day, went toe-to-toe in its single screening with the only screening of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, an auteur stand-off which went unanticipated by the ultimately very annoying MIFF trailer, which, in correspondence with this year's festival's slogan “It's a Matter of Taste”, bellowed forth all sorts of inane, inexplicably American accent-inflected dialectical oppositions pitting auteur against auteur, beginning with “Apatow vs. Kubrick” (neither of whom, as with many of the names that followed, were represented at the festival anyway).

Clearly, come the festival's final day, the only contest between filmmakers being contemplated in any way by MIFF audiences was Wright vs. Apichatpong, i.e., whether to close their MIFF with the certainty of easy good times promised by Wright's Scott Pilgrim (due for a wide release within a week anyway) or with the sole Melbourne screening of this year's Palme D'Or winner, made by the man who made the unforgettable Tropical Malady (and who also had a directorial hand in the enjoyably forgettable, camp as all get-out The Adventures of Iron Pussy – true!)

For me, it would have been a no-brainer, had I not a non-MIFF commitment that day to spare me such an easy decision anyway. The upshot of which, notwithstanding that I've still seen neither: Apatow vs. Kubrick? Well that's just silly. But Apichatpong vs. Wright? Apichatpong, surely!)

Animation Shorts 1

Fatigue robbed me of most of this session. Were that I could remember, in particular, more than just the initial five of The Lost Thing's 15 minutes (d. Andrew Ruhemann & Shaun Tan). Why couldn't MIFF have more than just the one screening of its animation packages? The animations – and the animators – deserve better.

I can though remember Sarah Wickens' clever What Light (Through Yonder Window Breaks) clearly enough to mention it here and applaud its comedic, ontological play with light, zipping about an enclosed room full of everyday stuff to metaphorically and literally bounce off of.

Animation Shorts 2

Oh dear. Fatigue robbed me of some of this session, too. I was at least with it enough to appreciate how much the one film I was really looking forward to within this package, the Quays' Maska, went down like a lead balloon with the rest of the crowd. Its finish was greeted with no small amount of ironic cheering from a likely Tropfest-sensibilitied audience.

Perhaps that's fair enough; Maska probably would have been better packaged with the experimental shorts (much as, I'm sure, Guy Maddin's Night Mayor should have been too, rather than with the documentary shorts, which I missed, dagnabbit). On which note, the experimental shorts were sadly given equally short shrift within the program as the animations; there was in fact but one, solitary, far-from-prime-time screening at MIFF for each of Animation Shorts packages 1 and 2; “Doco Shorts” (perish the thought that we might not colloquialise the term “documentary” lest it sound, what, unsexy?), and “Experimental Shorts”.

But back quickly to the animations, and it's hats off to Tom Judd for Bruce, wherein an action hero is created out of pixels and meat, semi-Splice style, and made to perform in a real world 1980s platform game environment until coming to a comically pathetic end, and to Beomsik Shimbe Shim's bizarre and disturbing The Wonder Hospital, which might give pause to anybody out there considering putting themselves through any sort of irreversible procedure in the name of beauty. Kudos also to Emma Lazenby for Mother of Many, a lovely tribute to the undercelebrated art of midwifery.

Around a Small Mountain

Positively pithy by Jacques Rivette's standards, I can't say Around a Small Mountain did a tremendous amount for me; it seemed altogether too self-consciously minor.

I fancy that some folks out there are so besotted with Rivette that they'll declare this rather throwaway work, set around an ill-attended circus and starring a maudlin Jane Birkin and a quixotic Sergio Castellitto, a “minor masterpiece”. They can keep the noun; I'll retain only the adjective.

Bibliothèque Pascal

Bibliothèque PascalNotwithstanding a jarringly homophobic narrative development early on, this was one of this year's most exciting offerings. Take Suzy Bannion out of Suspiria and let her loose in the "porn torture"-riddled ramblings of a most unreliable narrator and you've got Bibliothèque Pascal.

A little more on Bibliothèque Pascal.

Black Bus

A documentary offering scary insights into applications of the male-chauvinistic doctrines of latter-day, post-‘modesty revolution’ Haredi Judaism. Not as enraging as it ought to have been, but it's interesting to note that the state of Israel is perfectly capable of persecuting its own every bit as much as its enemies.

There's quite a bit more on Black Bus at ArtsHub.


MIFF's “Wild Things” section offered up both Border and Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar; therein lies the making for a wonderful Kuleshovian farmland double-bill. Considerably further removed from the norms of classicist narrative than Balthazar, the dialogue-free Border is a triumph of sound design in painting an audiovisual picture of hardscrabble lives eked out along the the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

There's a little more on Border within my report for Senses of Cinema on the 2010 Fribourg International Film Festival.


A determinedly unrelenting, harrowing and unapologetically unsubtle indictment of WWII-era Japanese nationalism from Kôji Wakamatsu, one of the most prolific and renowned directors of pinku eiga in that disreputable, but increasingly re-examined, genre's heyday.

A “war hero” and rapist returns home to his village, reduced to nowt but a mute, burnt head, a torso and an aggressive sexual appetite, which his wife, dutifully battling her own repulsion, tends to. Occasionally she parades him about the village, dressed in all his military finery, bedecked in medals. He eventually meets an appropriately ironic end.

Nobody, having been spared nothing, has enjoyed themselves in the meantime.

Certified Copy

Was Abbas Kiarostami's first film made outside of Iran more parts Luis Buñuel than Richard Linklater? I think so...

Quite a bit more on Certified Copy.

Enter the Void

If ever I find myself at a party with Gaspar Noé, I'll be sure to keep him away from the punch.

Enter the Void

His latest feature is sure one nasty, overlong, out-of-body bad trip that won't be namechecked in any Tokyo tourism brochures any time soon. Its lead, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a drug-peddling Canadian émigré, spends most of the film newly dead, a state we join him in experiencing, in accordance with theories exposited earlier in the film by Alex (Cyril Roy), one of Oscar's friends. Alex would have us believe that the experience of dying, as per The Tibetan Book of the Dead, has parallels in taking DMT, which Oscar is taking as he hits the town with Alex at the film's outset...

Enter the Void's first hour alone is troubling enough. Oscar clearly has the hots for his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), who, on getting reacquainted with his brother on arriving in neon-soaked Tokyo, becomes a stripper at a club run by a Japanese heavy. (Oscar meanwhile has been getting it on with a friend's mother. Ah – were it only Oscar and Lucinda! For added yuks.) Oscar and Linda, as we are none-too-subtly reminded once or twice, were orphaned through a horrific road accident not so very long ago... hence their (ahem) closeness.

Both are already leading a bottom-dwelling, downward-spiralling life in Tokyo ahead of Oscar's shooting death in a toilet cubicle.


Well, the film's latter hour-and-a-half is, shall we say, rather laboured.... Navel gazing is taken to a whole new metaphoric extreme!

Time and again the camera skims across Tokyo rooftop after rooftop before entering some space or another where Oscar's nearest and dearest contend with the aftermath of his death. Each time the camera finally settles upon an enclosed space peopled by Oscar's folk tearing themselves and one another apart, the camera gyres wildly about that space, as if a hot air balloon barely tethered in swirling high winds; that space will eventually fish-eye in on itself and the camera will finally zoom down and out the other end through yet another umbilical rabbit hole in pursuit of variations upon the same...

That rabbit hole might be anything from a common kitchen sink plughole (in which respect Enter the Void superficially follows a time-honoured cinematic tradition) to a tray bearing a newly aborted foetus...

Interspersed amongst all of this are flashbacks through Oscar's life, leading to the moment of Oscar's very (re)birth, just ahead of which we aren't spared what is perhaps the cinema's most extraordinary cumshot (it's 'shot' vaginally, from within).

And that's about as much as I want to say about Enter the Void (other than also to mention that it has the most gobsmacking opening credits sequence you've ever seen) until I can see it again and check that I read it right. I have my doubts about certain elements... but that was probably just the drugs, right kids?

Film Socialisme

Never again, Jean-Luc, never again...

A little more on Film Socialisme.


Exemplary piece of so-called “slow cinema”. Must this term necessarily assume a pejorative dimension? Which filmmaker will yet reclaim this still newly coined term as a badge of honour and put to rest its bandying about as a damnation?

A little more on Honey.

I Killed My Mother

Ugly, ugly, ugly film by a precocious young man who knows how to exact strong performances from a cast (himself, as this film's lead, definitely included) but who seems clueless when it comes to lighting and composition. Nothing which can't be remedied.

A little more on I Killed My Mother.

I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

Nothing less than a revelation. Roadshow, get with the program and RELEASE THIS FILM!

A little more on I Love You Phillip Morris.

In the Attic, or Who Has a Birthday Today?

My disappointment when I saw this last year was probably less based on the film's own merits than on my own expectations, likely unfairly high. That this was made by Jiří Barta, of Krysař (The Pied Piper of Hamelin) fame, had me expecting less a Czech stop-motion Toy Story, with a target demographic to match, than something of the power and virtuosity of The Pied Piper. I now really wish I'd seen it again, especially as I'm trying to improve my command of the Czech language.

There's a little more on In the Attic, or Who Has a Birthday Today? within my report for Senses of Cinema on the 2009 AniFest: International Festival of Animated Films.

Kawasaki's Rose

A fine new Czech film not a million miles thematically removed from The Lives of Others, but with all of its action taking place in the current day. When is a dissident not a dissident? I dare say this film resonates uneasily with any number of folks back in its home country.

A little more on Kawasaki's Rose.


I really didn't much care for Das Tank, accolades or no accolades. Nice sound design, but.

A little more on Lebanon.


Inept projection couldn't ruin this great fun, albeit overlong, tribute to one of rock 'n' roll's most indestructible, talismanic figures, Motorhead's Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister.

A little more on Lemmy.


Or “Monsoon Manila”. Or perhaps “Grandma vs. Grandma”. Certainly a highly immersive, neo-realist experience. Gets right in the wet, sticky thick of things, as two old ladies do their utmost to battle the elements and their lot in life in attaining moneys enough to do the right things by their sons, one of whom is now dead after an encounter with the other. Not half as grim as it sounds.

There's a little more on Lola within my report for Senses of Cinema on the 2010 Fribourg International Film Festival.


I don't know if it was just fatigue, but I slept through too much of Mammuth to be confident enough to say much of anything about it. This is probably a shame, as I loved directors Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine's previous film, Louise-Michel.


A little regrettably, this enjoyable collision of William Castle-inspired schlockmongering and the Cuban Missile Crisis was my only dalliance with the Joe Dante retrospective at MIFF. I wish I'd felt I had the strength to sign up for Dante's four-and-a-half-hour long The Movie Orgy; it sounds like it was a lot of fun, along the lines of “That's Exploitation!”, an extraordinary compilation of trailers New Zealand outré film impresario Ant Timpson prepared for the 3rd MUFF, back in the golden days of my involvement with said festival.

A little more on Matinee.


A lovely, very droll documentary about a very small Slovakian village getting ever smaller and its attempts to stem that tide, ideally with the construction of a “chapel of grief”.

A little more on Osadné.


A highly enjoyable film of great originality, great silliness and, ultimately, a great body count, courtesy of an irascible, jilted, psychokinetic killer tyre. Also notable for taking the film-within-a-film narrative device to new levels of absurdity.

A little more on Rubber.

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Director Mat Whitecross is a very energetic fellow; track suit panted, he presided over a Q&A in Abu Dhabi last November after a screening of his and frequent collaborator Michael Winterbottom's The Shock Doctrine, a recent screen elaboration upon Naomi Klein's disaster capitalism opus of the same name.

Whitecross could barely stand still for a moment on that occasion as he rattled off quick-fire responses to a very inquisitive crowd. And it's that same sort of manic energy which he brings to the hyperactive opening of his Ian Dury biopic, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, for better, and for worse.

It begins with a mad great flurry of rapidly edited images and vignettes, mixing animation with live-action, archival material with live rock 'n' roll and no small amount of fourth wall breaching, with Andy Serkis' Dury addressing a crowd within a theatre in a fashion not unlike Bronson in Nicolas Winding Refn's film of the same name, if he'd instead been positioned in London's Hackney Empire where Madness performed for Julien Temple (and Luke Cresswell)'s The Liberty of Norton Folgate.

In fact, I'd say Whitecross is heavily indebted to Temple and to the multi-media mosaic approach he adopted in his brilliant corrective to his own Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle of 1980, 2000's The Filth and the Fury. An approach brought rather more successfully to bear in Temple's documentaries than in this biopic, especially within Sex & Drugs' opening half hour, when it tramples all over any hope for the film to get into a rhythm. It does settle down and come good after that though, and lets us get to know the principal characters rather better.

Admirably, this sure ain't no hagiography. Sex & Drugs makes Dury out to be something of a bastard when at his worst. More frustratingly, it's quite narrow in its focus, which is especially honed upon Dury's relationship with his son, Baxter (Bill Milner), and upon Dury's relationship with his own father before him (Ray Winstone). The film doesn't cover a great timespan, and doesn't offer all that much of an insight into the wider world of the times.

Performances, however, are absolutely superb: for those too young to recall the real Ian Dury, Andy Serkis simply will be their “Spasticus Autisticus”. And the music is fantastic, with The Blockheads providing the music for Serkis to sing over. If only “I Want To Be Straight” could have been included on the soundtrack and woven into the narrative.

Quibbles about a few shortcomings aside, it was a worthy and enjoyable Closing Night film, in a year in which far less flattering opinions were widely held of the film that opened proceedings.

Son of Babylon

Son of Babylon

One of the films of the festival, without a doubt. I've already said it often, but that won't stop me saying it again, for anybody who came in late: Son of Babylon plays not unlike a cross between John Hillcoat’s recent Cormac McCarthy adaptation, The Road, and something out of the Rossellini canon circa Germany Year Zero. With a dash of Turtles Can Fly thrown in for good measure.

It's a terrible shame that its screenings at MIFF went against its makers' wishes, as documented earlier in this blog. Oi vay.

A little more on Son of Babylon.
Some thoughts on “the Son of Babylon affair”.
And there's still more on Son of Babylon within my report for Senses of Cinema on the 2009 Middle East International Film Festival.

Survival of the Dead

Better than Diary of the Dead. But really: has the Dead series not already proven undead enough? I think it had its Day long ago.

A little more on Survival of the Dead.



This wonderful Japanese absurdist comedy is my my unheralded highlight of the festival.

A little more on Symbol.


A most unusual Iranian thriller which comes undone in its last act. Tehroun is likely the only film that will ever make me feel any sympathy whatsoever for the sort of man who would hire a baby for begging purposes.

There's a little more on Tehroun within my report for Senses of Cinema on the 2010 Fribourg International Film Festival.


Had the last half-hour of Francis Ford Coppola's latest been as good as all that preceded it then this would have been a masterpiece. A massive improvement upon Youth Without Youth, mind you.

A little more on Tetro.

The Day Will Come

A histrionic, bourgeoisie-bashing German thriller that left me cold. Were that it had been made by Claude Chabrol!

A little more on The Day Will Come.

The Housemaid

I wish I'd seen Kim Ki-young's 1960 original, also screening at MIFF. I'm very glad though that I did at least see Im Sang-soo's 21st century re-imagining of it, which is a terrifically well-paced thriller, offering insights into the lives of South Korea's ultra-rich elite, and which ends... memorably.

A little more on The Housemaid.

The Illusionist

The Illusionist

A beautiful piece of work. May that more scripts by great auteurs, unproduced in their lifetimes, find their way into the hands of brilliant and sympathetic animator-directors.

A little more on The Illusionist.

The Juche Idea

A smartarsey, semi-mockumentary extrapolation upon the revolutionary film theories of Kim Jong Il. Some great found footage aside, The Juche Idea is just too darned smug for its own good.

A little more on The Juche Idea.

The Trotsky

Imagine the love child of Wes Anderson's Rushmore and Lindsay Anderson's If...., and you've got The Trotsky. Great fun.

A little more on The Trotsky.

To Die Like a Man

An underwhelming potboiler – especially given its praise on the festival circuit elsewhere – featuring a grand old clichéd coupling, an ageing drag queen and a junkie lover. There's been a little Catholicism and a little magic realist whimsy thrown into the mix, but To Die Like a Man still ain't no great shakes.

There's a little more on To Die Like a Man within my report for Senses of Cinema on the 2009 Mezipatra Queer Film Festival.

The Wedding Party

A very underwhelming Opening Night film. Rumour has it that it won't surface again for some time, not least before it's undergone some serious tweaking in the editing suite. I'd recommend, just for starters, getting rid of the reedy voiceover bookending the film in a wholly tacked-on-seeming fashion. The mostly peripheral character the voice belongs to seldom impresses as an observer of the wider goings-on within the film; having hers then serve as the voice of the whole film is a wholly wrongheaded manoeuvre.

A little more on The Wedding Party.

World on a Wire

World on a Wire

An extraordinarily prescient, made-for-TV production, anticipating the narrative and metaphysical concerns – if not the fashions nor the pacing – of The Matrix and Inception, by 26 and 37 years respectively. It's all the more extraordinary to consider that it's an adaptation of a novel, Simulacron-3, by Daniel F. Galouye, another nine years older still (and which is apparently also the inspiration for the 1999 film The Thirteenth Floor (d. Josef Rusnak), which I haven't seen).

Nearing 30 years after his death, will this be the last great Fassbinder rediscovery? I have my doubts...

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