Friday, August 6, 2010

Of voids, more and less: MIFF days 12 and 13

This blog just can't keep up with me...

Enter the Void

I'd love right now to write at length about that wag Gaspar Noé's newie, Enter the Void, which I emerged reborn from a screening of but half an hour ago.

But really what I, if not this blog, most need right now... is a little lie down.

Fortunately, here's A Little Lie Down I prepared, and had all but ready to go live, a little earlier today, before realising I needed urgently make yet another cutting-it-too-fine, mad dash from Sunny Thornbury into the CBD to get to a screening.

So: a highly potted, Enter the Void-free account of my last few days' MIFFing will have to suffice for this post.


First thing this morning I dropped by the Melbourne Art Fair at the Royal Exhibition Building to participate in a live 'outside broadcast' of 3RRR's “SmartArts”, whereupon I did my best to cram my thoughts on a week's MIFFing just past, and on the festival's last few days just ahead, into a pithy, fun-filled 15 minutes.

Yesterday was my most demanding day of the festival, taking in Chris Morris' hilarious, knockabout suicide bomber comedy Four Lions in the morning (outside of MIFF proper, at a media screening), followed by all three-and-a-half hours of R.W. Fassbinder's extraordinarily prescient, made-for-TV production World on a Wire, which anticipates the narrative and metaphysical concerns – if not the fashions nor the pacing – of The Matrix and Inception, by 26 and 37 years respectively!

A quick soup and some fine company – both highly necessary – helped revive me for Koji Wakamatsu's Caterpillar, a harrowing and unapologetically unsubtle indictment of WWII-era Japanese nationalism, ahead of a festival highlight, Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy, about which I'll immediately trouble to say a little more.

Kiarostami's first feature made outside of Iran has seen a lot of people looking to Richard Linklater as a first point of comparison, citing, in particular, Before Sunset, and Before Sunrise before that, as belonging to the same gen(r)ealogical tree. I will pay that, but that sure ain't the whole story.

Certified Copy concerns a French antique shop owner (a fabulously skittish Juliette Binoche), and an English writer (William Shimell – a cross between Dustin Hoffman and Shaun Micallef) whose recent opus is an investigation into 'originality' in art. These two embark together upon a locquacious but increasingly fractious rambling Tuscan adventure. (A superbly shot one, I might add.)

Certified Copy

For all the film's superficial Linklaterishness, I think the cinematic figure Certified Copy most harkens back to – and here we might like to indulge ourselves with believing a small cameo from Jean-Claude Carrière is a clue – is none other than that rascally old surrealist, Luis Buñuel. For Certified Copy features one extraordinarily adroit piece of narrative sleight-of-hand that comes to assume positively Buñuelian dimensions, especially per Buñuel's latter day masterpieces, often co-written with Carrière, with their penchant for surreally skewering the lives, loves and lusts of their bourgeois protagonists through the imposition of whimsical flights of metaphysical fancy, ever taking gleeful great liberties with the earthbound conventions of that tired old warhorse, classical narrative.

Which isn't to say that Certified Copy isn't still every bit a Kiarostami film. Never mind that it's set in a world far removed from Iran and features dialogue in English, French and Italian. Its dialectical play with notions of originality and duplication/replication, which doesn't so much just permeate the narrative as metaphysically warp it, marks it as every bit as philosophically inquisitive, reflexive and hence, Kiarostamian, a work as any of his previously celebrated features.

I've plain run out of time again, and haven't even made mention of Peepli [Live], a highly discomfiting satire about Indian farmers living well below the poverty line, for whom suicide emerges as a good career move, as the government will compensate a suicide's family for their loss! Nor have I got to Jacques Rivette's latest, Around a Small Mountain, in which, as is commonly observed of Rivette's work, the play's the thing. I like to think I'll find time yet to come back to both of these, and more seen at MIFF besides.

Dagnabbit, I gots to go. The animation packages from a few days ago will also have to wait for another day to be granted their column inches here.

But meanwhile – Melburnians, see you over the last few days 'round the traps at MIFF!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Of mothers and mants: some of MIFF days 9 and 10

I Killed My Mother

Director Xavier Dolan, recently turned but 21 years of age, is Hubert, the 16-year-old gay lead in this new comedy-of-sorts which begins looking for all the world as if it'll be utterly insufferable... but proves otherwise.

I Killed My Mother

Hubert, for the most part, cannot stand his mother (Anne Dorval). Hence we are subjected to recurring shouting matches and antagonistic games of silly buggers between the two of them, often held within the incredibly dingy house they both call home. At least, I think it's dingy. It's a little hard to tell, because you can barely ever make out any of it. It's always extremely poorly lit, and I found it impossible to tell whether it's meant to be, i.e., whether it's a deliberate aesthetic strategy on Dolan & co.'s part, perhaps the better to plunge us impressionistically into the ever strained atmosphere of the household. Or, likelier, it's simply just very amateurishly lit, and a match then for the often very awkward compositions that plague the entire film.

Nevertheless, I somehow found myself interested in whether Hubert and his long-suffering mother mightn't be able to reconcile matters. Seems no amount of ostensible technical incompetence can rob a film of its heart, and I Killed My Mother, which gives every impression of coming from a very real place, has plenty of it. And there are some real laughs to be had, in close to equal weighting with the film's more histrionic elements.

In summary, then: a rather flawed film, but one which still has some appeal.


#1 festival guest Joe Dante gave a wonderful introduction to the underattended screening of this little known 1993 gem; I dare say he'd have given just as good at the Q&A afterwards as well, but, alas, I had to skedaddle to be sure to catch Hirokazu Koreeda's Air Doll (more on which, soon!)


In the meantime, I thoroughly enjoyed this nostalgic trip back to a more innocent time, when the Cuban Missile Crisis was newly scaring the bejeesus out of Americans and, more importantly, multiplexes hadn't been invented yet!

Set in Key West, Florida, Matinee concerns itself with the intersection of the real world backyard scares of the missile crisis and the rather safer big screen ones of Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman), an Alfred Hitchcock by-way-of William Castle-esque figure rolling into town to drum up business for his new gimmick-laden feature film, Mant!.

Mant!, viewed in snatches during the latter half of the film, is itself a rather wonderful creation, and one which would have done Roger Corman proud. It concerns a rogue man-cum-giant-ant, and brought home to me the fact that the happy hucksterish likes of William Castle long could have laid claims to have pioneered 'expanded cinema', and that it really oughtn't be considered the exclusive domain of the cinematic avant-garde, as some histories would have it...


While the missile crisis is an important, well integrated backdrop to the film's narrative, and the sense of time and place are well established accordingly, there's no losing sight of what Matinee is chiefly about: the joy of going to the pictures in a bygone era when the cinema was king and there was no better, more fun place to go of an afternoon or an evening.

Oh! – and rhymingly happily with the gloriously daft Rubber, seen earlier at MIFF, a young Naomi Watts appears in a sequence parodying the anodyne Disney movies of the time, a sequence in which her character and her dapper but ineffectual boyfriend need not fear baddies, because her Uncle is a heroic, no-nonsense shopping trolley...




My thoughts on Air Doll, Peepli [Live], MIFF's animation packages, and more...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

MIFF days 7 and 8

I Love You Phillip MorrisTime's against me, so I'd best make rather brief my account of a few films seen over two of the last three days at MIFF, though I might come back in a day or two to write a little more expansively on one or two of them, those as which most deserve it, none more so than would the first cab off the rank.

I Love You Phillip Morris (d. Glenn Ficarra & John Requa, writers of Bad Santa)

The highlight of the festival for me so far, an absolute revelation! I'd heard from abroad it was good; it's been in circulation, of a sort, for quite a while already. Locally, Roadshow has been sitting on it for months, apparently clueless as how on Earth to pitch to the mainstream so extremely black and unflinching a comedy, based upon extraordinary true recent events, as this, in which Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor play lovers...

Carrey has never been better than as conman and escape artist nonpareil Steven Russell. McGregor, as Phillip Morris – the film has nothing to do with the tobacco industry – is greatly affecting as the object of Russell's madly, hilariously criminally expressed affections.

No film has pulled the rug out from under me so brilliantly – or with anything like close to as much chutzpah – as this in a long time. I'll be appalled if Roadshow release this straight to DVD; I Love You Phillip Morris is simply brilliant.


I thought Francis Ford Coppola's previous film, 2007's Youth Without Youth, was a dreadful load of old tosh. With Tetro as further evidence, I'm coming to think that Coppola may be going just a little bit mad, but I do have to concede that, barring Tetro's last half hour, when the wheels really come off, Coppola can still turn it on. For this rather strange tale set principally in Buenos Aires, of filial failings and inverted Oedipalism, is strikingly beautiful to behold, presented, flashbacks aside, in gorgeously crisp black-and-white 'Scope. And there really is no telling how the narrative, principally concerning a strained reunion between long estranged brothers (Vincent Gallo as Tetro, a mercurial failed writer, and Leonardo Di Caprio lookalike Alden Ehrenreich as virginal little brother Bennie), will pan out. While this is for the better for its very intriguing first hour-and-a-half, it's for far the worse in its utterly daft last half hour. Still, I'm very glad I rose above my doubts and bothered to see it. (And you can never include too much of Powell and Pressburger's The Tales of Hoffmann in a film.)

Kawasaki's Rose

Kawasaki's Rose

Although a Czechophile, I am far more conversant with films from the dizzy heyday of the Czechoslovak New Wave than I am with those of one of the Czech Republic's most celebrated latter day directors, Jan Hřebejk. I'll be concertedly looking deeper into his earlier work shortly, most impressed as I, and a few fellow Czechophiles, were with this multi-stranded, cleverly flashback-free, Lives of Others-inspired current day look back into pre-Velvet Revolution Czechoslovakia.

Its title refers to a complex origami creation, which, while having some direct narrative significance within the film, is more meant as a metaphor for the many layers underlying the reality of life for those now thriving in a post-communist state but whose earlier lives may have been marked with fateful compromises and Faustian pacts.

Atop its many other merits, it's a terrific film for a learner of Czech, with a wonderful final sequence marked by a thesauran explosion of insults that one character had long wanted, with good reason, to hurl at another. I'll be looking to grab this one on DVD when Madman get around to releasing it locally, the better to learn the Czech for “fuckwit” and “rotten cunt”, without which my life, and in particular, my Czech vocabulary, is sadly incomplete.

The Juche Idea (d. Jim Finn)

I didn't much care for this semi-mockumentary investigation into the little-travelled revolutionary film theories of North Korean despot Kim Jong Il, which accord with the “Juche” ideology first expounded by his equally lunatic father, Kim Il-sung. I found it messy, nowhere near as funny as it thought it was, and ultimately rather tiresome. Its best moments were when footage from North Korean films (and television?) was left to speak for itself, rather than when anti-capitalist mock-Kim-isms were given to a faux documentary subject – a woman purporting to be on a Juche arts residency in North Korea (as if!) – to blither to the camera.

In its favour, it did feature fabulous footage, all too briefly, of a woman juggling three live doves, one of the strongest and strangest images of this year's MIFF.

The Son of Babylon affair and other controversies for MIFF in 2010

Son of Babylon
Well, no amount of cheerleading here or elsewhere is likely to have any impact whatsoever now on the chances of Son of Babylon receiving an encore screening at MIFF; it transpires that its two previous screenings both flew in the face of its producers' and director's wishes, something which came to light only on Friday just past, not that you'd know about it through either MIFF or through the mainstream media.

I feel very sad – and rather conflicted – about this. I would have it that as many people, spread as far and wide across the globe as possible, could see this superb, harrowing film, which, a la Bahman Ghobadi's extraordinary Turtles Can Fly, is hard to credit was even made, let alone made so well and to such powerful and profound an end result.

However, knowing that to screen it here – to have screened it here twice already – goes altogether against the wishes of its producers, in connection with their horror at belatedly discovering that MIFF is in a cultural partnership with the state of Israel, troubles me considerably.

My lived experience in the Middle East runs only as far as 10 days spent in Abu Dhabi just last year, for the most part cocooned in the incredible unreality that was to be a pampered guest of the impossibly deep-pocketed 3rd Middle East International Film Festival, covering this fledgling would-be A-list festival for Senses of Cinema. But while that meant I spent precious little time amongst the everyday folk of the UAE's capital – my experiences of downtown Abu Dhabi were limited to just a couple of desultory, slightly nervous ground level sojourns and no small amount of al fresco shisha smoking in the company of an American expatriate – there was nonetheless absolutely no misinterpreting the wider Arab world's feeling towards the conduct of the state of Israel, to the limited extent they ever even acknowledge it as a nation state at all. The depth of Arab ill-feeling towards Israel, with, of course, particular respect to its part in the inexorable Israel-Palestine conflict, is not something I would ever think to trifle with.

It saddens me that I no longer feel I can (futilely, anyway) champion an encore screening of this wonderful film at MIFF and will instead simply hope that one of Australia's many fine exhibitors/DVD distributors picks it up to give it a second life, and a far wider audience, around these parts.

L.A. Zombie
Anyone keen to read more about this rather messy second controversy to hit the 2010 MIFF (the first being, of course, the rather absurd business of the Australian Classification Board's eleventh hour refusal to allow MIFF to screen L.A. Zombie (almost agreeably absurd – a man named Donald McDonald bans a film made by a man named Bruce La Bruce – you just can't make this stuff up!)) ought to read “How the Melbourne Film Festival embraces apartheid Israel” on Sydney-based multihyphenate Antony Loewenstein's blog, which gives due consideration to a blow-by-blow account of a handful of oppositional leaked correspondences between the Son of Babylon production team and MIFF Director Richard Moore, correspondences reproduced verbatim elsewhere online.

I have to admit to considerable ambivalence about the online publication of these leaked emails, which is why I won't provide a link to them here. (If you really feel you must read them, you can be assured you'll have little trouble finding them.) Much of my ambivalence is in fact less concerned with the privacy issues surrounding putting into the public sphere a professional dialogue that was, of course, originally conducted privately, but rather with the unsanctioned exposure of the contact details of the parties concerned. That, for mine, is a bridge too far. I am in turn further troubled that my highlighting my concern with this instance of a world's worst practice might also only lead to a wider discovery of those very materials that I think oughtn't be exposed in the first place. Please, don't go there, girlfriends!

Anyway, moving on from the particularity of the Son of Babylon affair: Jacinda Woodhead's “Occupied with free speech” on the ABC's “The Drum Unleashed” makes for interesting further reading, in considering whether MIFF's recent receipt of Liberty Victoria's free speech award, the Voltaire award – about which there was some self-congratulatory chest-thumping during Richard Moore's Opening Night speech – isn't something of a travesty in light of the festival's acceptance of sponsorship from the state of Israel.

We live in interesting times...