Thursday, December 1, 2011

Of recent gads had about Central Europe; the near future, and points of intersection

Long-time scanners of A Little Lie Down will know that many a post hereabouts begins along the lines of “Well, gosh, it's sure been a while between drinks” before leading into some sort of lame apology.

Well, with that acknowledgement made I can dodge that particular bullet for this late November '11 stocktake instalment of ALLD and just get the hell on with it.

Yes, a stocktake

A stocktake, that is, of things to come, of things to have recently occurred, and intersections thereof.

Two reasons for my not having contributed much to my own blog lately are:

1) I have an awful lot to write before this year is over for publications other than ALLD, publications of a reputable nature which, unlike ALLD, actually and necessarily operate to deadlines.

2) I have been preoccupied by being overseas, attending festivals in Cottbus (Germany, in the old East, not far from the Polish border and where all signage is in German and in Sorbian*), and in Prague, which dovetails neatly into item 1), for one of the things I have to write is a report on the 21st FilmFestival Cottbus for Senses of Cinema for its next edition, and another is a report on the 12th Mezipatra, the wonderful queer film festival in the Czech Republic, which I have notions I'll be submitting to another particular esteemed film journal, though I'd be foolish to say here just which when I couldn't altogether be said to have run it past them yet.
* No, this is not a typo.
I won't go into too much detail about either of these festivals here, in the interests of dodging ultimate duplication, other than to recount a few personal highlights of Mezipatra which would not necessarily be the stuff of a more formal festival report:

Chief amongst my highlights was moderating a Q&A with Todd Haynes after a screening of Far From Heaven (2002), chased down with a few drinks at Prague's legendary Kavárna Lucerna with the highly affable, accessible director; his lovely partner; a few fellow guests, and various of the Mezipatra staff. At Mezipatra director Aleš Rumpel's behest, I found myself toasting the table as only one too deeply versed in the Australian vernacular can, with a wholehearted “up your arse!” This, happily, went down rather better than, in hindsight, it conceivably might have.

Also: a day or two prior Mezipatra held, upon the hallowed ground of FAMU*, a Todd Haynes masterclass, conducted by Variety critic Boyd van Hoeij. Now you too can enjoy, as did I, a front-row seat for this terrific discussion. Haynes is a terrific speaker, warm, erudite and generous in equal measure, and there's well over two hours' worth of his thoughts upon the cinema - his, and all that which has inspired it.
* FAMU is, rather awkwardly in English, the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. Read the list of notable alumni (some, like Věra Chytilová, these days serve as faculty!) on FAMU's Wikipedia page – and weep!
Here, notwithstanding my slight, doth-protest-too-much, old-school discomfort with embedding video content on my blog wholly the (recent) creation of others, is “Todd Haynes Himself” - the superb Todd Haynes masterclass given on the occasion of his retrospective at the 12th Queer Film Festival Mezipatra in Prague.

Alas, there isn't (as far as I know) any video footage of my Q&A with Todd Haynes, but here at least are a couple of photos so I can still commemorate the occasion here. (With many thanks to Josef Rabara for the photos.)

The author (l) with Todd Haynes. This is immediately after a screening of a spanky 35mm print of Haynes' sumptuous Far From Heaven. Little does the director realise it, but deliberately pinned to my accidentally apt '50s-ish tuck shop frock - accidentally apt, that is, as I had in fact been prepared to conduct a Q&A that day after my favourite Todd Haynes film, Safe, rather than after Far From Heaven - is a badge bearing a detail of a photo, taken by the amazing Gregory Crewdson, depicting Julianne Moore in a state of terrifying domestic narcotism, bought originally in 2008 at a Crewdson exhibition held in Prague's Rudolfinum, as if to summon Todd Haynes to Zlatá Praha, celebrated alchemy capital of the world, within a matter of but three years...
(l-r) The author, Todd Haynes, festival director Aleš Rumpel (mid-translation) and programmer Lucia Kajánková. The latter two, atop all of the powers they demonstrate in abundance for Mezipatra in their respective roles, have truly formidable translation skills, taking turns in rendering into Czech some wonderfully well-considered but very, very lengthy responses from Todd Haynes to questions posed to him, whether by me or by members of a happily, highly engaged audience.

And now, especially for non-Czech readers of this blog and anyone else who wasn't at the festival and so likely hasn't seen this year's Mezipatra trailer, here then, the better to give you a sense of the festival's flavour, is this (dir: Tamara Moyzes):

Lastly on Mezipatra (for here and now), here's a photo of the beautiful, 102-year-old Kino Lucerna, taken on Mezipatra's Opening Night.

I love this place, even though the projection is occasionally a little pants.

Now, if you were to look closely, you might just spot me in the second row, covered in owls. A cautionary note: it is no longer safe to purchase a dress covered, one might have thought uniquely, in owls, in Hobart, under the unconscious presumption that its like will never, ever be seen North-si-eed, hemispherically speaking. However, the very day following the Opening Night shenanigans in Prague, I spotted the very same dress prominently on display in a groovy little Prague boutique. Globalisation, amongst its many other evils (and, granted, certain goods) has sadly increased the risk of same-garb embarrassment a hundred-thousandfold. None of us are safe from this scourge, no matter how far flung our travel destinations. None of us!

Which brings me, sans an elegant segue, to:
Critical failings of film festivals in Australia...

Chatting with the lovely Boyd van Hoeij in Kavárna Lucerna one evening, we got to talking about his role as one of four (including the delightful, impassioned and sage Tom Kalin – and hasn't Swoon (Kalin, 1992) aged brilliantly well!) adjudicating on the features jury at Mezipatra this year. While Boyd spoke of greatly enjoying his jury duty, having been on many juries previously, I had to confess that I've never served on a film festival jury, and instantly felt something a hick.

This point now dovetails neatly with a near-future engagement of mine to have just emerged. Come Thursday next week – that's December 8, at 7pm – in the absence of Josh Nelson, I'll be joining the remaining 2/3 of the fabulous Plato's Cave film criticism podcasting team – Thomas Caldwell and Tara Judah – on the second of their nine week live-to-air summer season on my beloved Triple R 102.7FM, already home to my regular fortnightly radio gig, “A Fistful of Celluloid” on Richard Watts' Thursdaily artsopotamus, SmartArts.

Per the Plato's Cave formula, I'll chew over three current releases with Tara and Thomas, with the remainder of the show turned over to discussion of some film cultural matter or other. It already having been suggested that I might like to tell a few stories from my recent European adventures, I further proposed that that
could easily be linked to a wider consideration of film festival culture and, in particular, to what I consider a major failing of film festival culture in Oz: a certain parochialism/provincialism, something which I feel has a negative trickle-down impact upon critical practice here (amongst other things).

When last did a festival here afford local critics a chance to mix with international peers (whether in a formal capacity, say, on a jury) or just through attracting international media to our far shores? Is not film criticism in Australia largely practiced in one great, blinkered, whitebread vacuum, largely marooning Australian critics with only their own for company (little wonder they so often turn on one another), robbing them of opportunities to develop a more internationalist perspective of film (festival) culture, notwithstanding the richness, diversity and heft of the foreign big screen offerings that unspool here more and more every year?
I'd already started to write a stroppy great rant about as much for this blog but would now rather instead focus those energies on delivering the same on Plato's Cave tomorrow week, whereupon Thomas and Tara can immediately present the case for the opposition, if there is much of a one, or at least get several strong opinions of their own on the matter in edgeways.

And after that episode has gone to air, and the podcasting fairies have waved their magic wands across it, I'll be sure to post a link to it here for all whom should transpire to miss it live but wish to catch up with it later.

Another very good reason for publishing something, right here, right now

Truth is too that I needed something to hang a promo on for the Australian Film Critics Association's Film Writing Awards, lest AFCA secretary Bernard Hemingway otherwise find out where I live and pop round to break my knees in frustration at my not having let him know what I, as a card-carrying member of the illustrious AFCA, would be doing (if anything!) to promote the AFCA's awards.

And, so, lo! Behold! And: go forth and compete!

I'll hasten to add that I'll certainly submit something to these awards myself, ahead of the looming deadline of December 31. Perhaps it'll be something to have first had a run here at A Little Lie Down. Perhaps, indeed!

I'll also give the awards a plug when I return to the Triple R airwaves a little later this morning at 11.30, joining Richard Watts on SmartArts and yakking about George Clooney's The Ides of March, Megan Doneman's documentary on Asia Nobel Prize winner, Kiran Bedi, Yes Madam, Sir, and this and that else besides.


A personal film criticism and publication diary for the remainder of 2011

Today, Thurs, Dec 1: I return to SmartArts.

Thurs, Dec 8: I fill in for Josh Nelson on Plato's Cave.

Mid-late Dec – I'll submit a report on the 21st FilmFestival Cottbus to Senses of Cinema (along with as many as two book reviews: dekalog 3: On Film Festivals (guest ed. Richard Porton) and Playing with Memories: Essays on Guy Maddin (ed. David Church)). Yikes!

Thurs, Dec 15: SmartArts – Reviews of Lars von Trier's Melancholia and Pedro Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In will be the likely order of the day.

Sat Dec 31: Deadline for submission to the Australian Film Critics Association's Film Writing Awards.

Also, then or thenabouts:

I will submit a review of Alexandra Heller-Nicholas' Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study to Bright Lights Film Journal (I must mention that I saw an absolute cracker of just such a film in Cottbus, in new Russian feature, Twilight Portrait (dir: Angelina Nikonova)).

I will submit, presuming such are once more solicited, a wrap of the year that will have been 2011, to Senses of Cinema.

And I must submit a report on Mezipatra 2011 to a certain journal as well.

Busy times! (During which I believe the 3RRR subscriber magazine, The Trip, will post a slightly premature Top 10 of mine for 2011 as well. (What? - you don't subscribe? Well, that's easily remedied – now get cracking!))

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ah, how oft!

Gosh, the tumbleweeds have been blowing round these parts awhile once more, haven't they?

Cover of CHERRIE, Oct 2011: 'Love in Iran': Interview with Maryam KeshavarzStill, it's not that I've been idle. Far from it. It's just that my energies have principally been diverted in recent weeks towards that other sort of cinema: the theatre.

(This isn't the full truth: I did slave over a hot keyboard, battling a recalcitrant DVD screener, a very tight deadline and divers alarums aplenty in order to file an interview with Maryam Keshavarz, Iranian-American director of highly provocative Iranian lesbianeering flick, Circumstance, as the cover story of the latest issue of Cherrie to hit the streets (the magazine "for the not so straight girl").)

So, yes, the theatre. I am but one of three to constitute Dirty Nicola and the Spud Hussies (or, to give us our full due: Dirty Nicola and the Cheap, Filthy, Pre-Loved, Shop-Soiled Spud Hussies: myself on bass, Katrina Wilson on keys, Nicola Bell on drums and all of us on foley), finest purveyors of 'The New Sound' as applied to the live scoring of deranged expanded marionette theatre adaptations of macabre 19th century Wilhelm Busch morality tales told in verse. Such as Max and Moritz: A Juvenile History in 7 Tricks! Presently playing at the Czech Club in North Melbourne during the Melbourne Fringe Festival. And for three more nights only!

Flier for 'Max and Moritz: A Juvenile History in 7 Tricks' at the Czech Club during the 2011 Melbourne Fringe Festival

We've several shows behind us now and, happily, I can report that they've been going down a treat, both with Joe and Joanna Public as well as with some folk "who matter". The show is considerably evolved from its ramshackle but vivacious (and even then well-received) début late last year at the Village Festival in North Fitzroy's Edinburgh Gardens, which I blogged a little about way back when, going then into a little detail about some of the Czech marionette theatre traditions the show is indebted to.

But that was then.

Here's what you need to know about the now:

Max and Moritz: A Juvenile History in 7 Tricks
at the Melbourne Fringe Festival:

Venue: Czech Club: 497 Queensberry St, North Melbourne

Remaining dates: Tue 4 & Wed 5 Oct at 7.30pm
Closing Night: Fri 7 Oct at 7.30pm, featuring a post-show set from Dirty Nicola and the Spud Hussies!

Tickets: Via the Fringe Festival website, by phone on 03 9660 9666, or at the door on the night.

Dirty Nicola and the Spud Hussies
Dirty Nicola and the Spud Hussies, with a glimpse of the Max and Moritz set behind, at the Czech Club, recently.

Come one, come all! It's a show I'm very proud to be involved with, with the Spud Hussies a unit I'm even more thrilled to be in thick with, which - happy day! - will live on long beyond this show. And about future Spud Hussies excursions into 'The New Sound', post-Fringe and with, or without, puppets and thespians... I'll keep you posted.


Lest anyone be concerned that I've given myself over wholesale to pandering to the Euterpean Muse and will therefore be wont here on in to neglect the cinema (oh, had it only a Muse to call its own!), fear not! I'll be on the air on 102.7FM, 3RRR, once more this very Thursday at 11.30am in my customary slot opposite Richard Watts during his arts behemoth, SmartArts. Hurrah!

(My apologies for missing it a fortnight prior; on that occasion, I really was altogether too snowed under to surface for "A Fistful of Celluloid" and do it justice.)


Lastly, for now, Senses of Cinema, that august film journal of record still very dear to my heart, needs your help. Without it, it might not be much longer for this world, which is just too appalling a prospect to countenance. And yet countenance it we must.

Senses is reaching out to the cloud via a Pozible campaign in the hope that $15,000 - just enough to keep it afloat for another year while, hopefully, some other revenue-generating manoeuvres are successfully implemented - can be raised by 5 November. That's only 33 days away! And Senses still needs $7,745 - criminy! But... perhaps you can help?

Can you?

Monday, August 22, 2011

That was the 60th MIFF that was – Part III: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia through to Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City

This final part of my MIFF wrap was delayed in no small part due to Melbourne's just keepin' on givin' – why, in successive nights last week in Melbourne town, I attended the resumption of the Melbourne Cinémathèque's 2011 program (two terrific films by Masahiro Shinoda); the opening of the 2011 Russian Resurrection Film Festival (a quite good steam-powered gulag action flick in Aleksei Uchitel's The Edge), and a fundraising shindig looking to get some key cast and crew of Amiel Courtin-Wilson's Hail to Venice for its imminent screening in competition at the Venice International Film Festival, the first Australian film in a decade to compete there.

While I'm yet to see Hail, I none the less wish its unassuming director and his colleagues well in their quest, and for the film to be well received. My gut feeling is that it will be, and that we'll all be hearing a lot more about Hail yet.


And, without any further ado, what this blog post title promises I now deliver:

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Nuri Bilge Ceylan's latest is ostensibly a policier which unfolds at a very leisurely pace not far removed from 'real time', in stark contrast to the urgency of its frustrated principals' interest in finding a crime scene in the middle of the night, well off the beaten track, in the centre of Turkey.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Beautiful, honeyed night-time cinematography – in full 'Scope, what's more – makes most of Once Upon a Time a feast for the peepers, while strong characterisations from a terrific array of character actors gently, probingly and often humorously help tease out several intriguing subtexts from some Tarantino-esque exchanges and badinage which come across far more naturalistically than in any of his films.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is ultimately rather less about a search for a body out on the Anatolian plains than it is interested in using that search as a prop for an allusive investigation into problematic aspects of life in present day Turkey (and elsewhere), including urban/rural divides; big city/small town rivalries; the extant practice of arranged marriage, and other backwards sexo-political manifestations of an often still highly patriarchal society; bureaucracy and incompetence in governance, and more besides.

A lengthy morning-after coda to the captivating nocturnal first portion of the film is less aesthetically pleasing – I would have it no other way, though, during a long autopsy sequence – but is ultimately very satisfying in its deep mining of the film's rich subtexts; the full implications of one particular character's words and actions take a good long while to set in after the closing credits have rolled. A terrific film.

Opening Night - The Fairy

I covered the 60th MIFF's Opening Night, and its whimsy-saturated choice as curtain-raiser, The Fairy – it seems half a lifetime ago, now – as many as four Little Lies Down ago.

Outside Satan

Bruno Dumont's latest has some imagery in it I'll probably take with me to the grave – there's one very memorable, profoundly bizarre sex scene that leaves a particularly strong impression – but I doubt I'll otherwise ever revisit it.

It gives every bit the impression of being precisely the film its maker wanted it to be, but as it operates on a wavelength I just can't tune into – there's some highly abstruse religiosity that inflects the narrative's events, something which doesn't much speak to me, incorrigible heathen that I am – I can't find much to rave about beyond its beautiful landscape cinematography. The deliberate anti-performances of its leads, equal parts neo-Bressonian and, I suppose, a function of their characters' mysticised, opaque motivations, did nothing to greater endear Outside Satan to me. Is that contrary to Dumont's intentions? I can't tell. At any rate, I'll be curious to see what he does next. I can tell he knows what he's doing, even if, in this instance, I don't.

Peter Tscherkassky – Programs One and Two and a Masterclass

I raved about Peter Tscherkassky's visit to MIFF, and in particular his masterclass based around a screening of Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005), as many as three Little Lies Down ago. Additionally, ahead of the festival's commencement, and in feverish anticipation of his coming, I wrote a few thoughts on Tscherkassky's practice which I now have to concede, having only just become acquainted with a whole lot more of his work through MIFF's programs, only apply in fact to much, but not to all, of his work. That was a further two Little Lies Down ago.

Post Mortem

I wrote as much about Post Mortem as I will probably ever care to as few as three Little Lies Down ago.

Sodankylä Forever – The Century of Cinema

I was surprised by the fairly modest turnout at the screening I attended of Peter von Bagh's documentary, which I'd have thought would have served as irresistible cinephile-bait. This was a double shame as I'd also have liked to have seen a great many more people catching the short which preceded it, The First Interview.

(I wrote a little about The First Interview (d. Dennis Tupicoff), and my very small part in its realisation, as many as six Little Lies Down ago.)

Sodankylä Forever – The Century of Cinema
Sodankylä Forever – The Century of Cinema

Sodankylä is a town 120 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, and is host to the Midnight Sun Film Festival, from which all of the material in this documentary – but one 90 minute portion of a 270 minute long whole, I believe – is sourced. Von Bagh is the festival's director as well as this film's, though any such contextualising information is absent from The Century of Cinema, perhaps attributable to its being but one segment of a larger, unseen whole. Instead, it gets straight into the business of presenting thoughts on the cinema, on filmmaking, and on the events of the 20th century's influence upon both from an extraordinary roll-call of major filmmakers, as prompted by von Bagh and delivered to attendees of Midnight Sun. These excerpted interviews are occasionally interspersed with scenes of folks wandering the grounds of probably the only film festival on the planet where, outside of the cinema, the sun never stops shining (and which was founded by the Kaurismäki brothers, a noteworthy fact I don't recall The Century of Cinema mentioning either).

Visiting this festival, both for access to the wealth of talent it clearly attracts, and for its unique astrological conditions, would have to be a very special experience. Consider me tantalised; Midnight Sun looks like a shoo-in for inclusion in “101 Film Festivals You Must Attend Before You Die”.

But back for a moment to Sodankylä Forever – The Century of Cinema. I greatly enjoyed hearing from the horses' mouths anecdotes from the filmmaking frontlines, whether from Miloš Forman, Jerzy Skolimowski, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Powell, Dušan Makavejev, Sam Fuller, or from countless others. Sure, most of the filmmakers profiled were of a certain generation (and 95% were male), but many – Fuller, for example, and several filmmakers to have worked under totalitarian regimes in Central and Easterm Europe – consequently had great stories of resistance and persistence to tell, linking struggles with filmmaking with wider struggles in wartime and its aftermath, regularly reminding this viewer of Sam Fuller's famous description of the cinema in Godard's Contempt: “Film is like a battleground: It's love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word: emotion.”

Surviving Life

I seldom see any one film twice at a festival but this was always likely to prove an exception, such is my long-standing fascination with Jan Švankmajer. Furthermore, I'm learning the Czech language, so another engagement with the wordiest Švankmajer yet was always going to be as much fun as I could possibly have doing my homework ahead of my next weekly class.

Surviving Life
Surviving Life

Happily, seeing Surviving Life a second time went some way to comforting me that I might not have been too wide of the mark in a hypothesis I advanced four Little Lies Down ago concerning whether Švankmajer has placed a Godlike entity in his film's dreamscapes, indicative perhaps of an inquiry on his part into the existence of a higher order of intelligence, much as had been striven for contact with by a number of other major figures, e.g. Tristan Tzara and William Burroughs, in their similarly frontier-probing, conscious mind-dodging art practices.

However, my second viewing prompted me to re-read what I'd first written on this film, only to find some serious shortcomings in my original articulation of this hypothesis, something which has gnawed away at me ever since, all the more so as I couldn't find time before now to right matters.

In particular, it must be mentioned that this entity I speak of, manifest as a haggard, foul-breathed old bag lady, is explicitly identified, both within the film's unreliable narrative, by the psychiatrist, and in the film's credits, as being (Evžen, the protagonist's) “super-ego”. It irks me no end that I failed to mention this the first time around, whether through tuning that out of my recollection when composing my initial appraisal or through too hastily cobbling that piece together. (Which is also to say: I can't bear to countenance the thought that I might have failed to pick up on something so obvious the first time around. And... yet?)

However, let's say that if super-ego she indeed is, then... whose? For this is not at all a clear-cut proposition. In her final manifestation (in which, compatible with my hypothesis, she proclaims herself to be known by all manner of recondite noms de Dieu, far in advance of the earthbound authority figures “Karl Marx” and “Napoléon” the psychiatrist had warned Evžen his super-ego would claim to be (correctly though, it must be said, as if in a wish fulfilled))... in her final manifestation, she is in fact appearing, and waxing omniscient, within Evžen's wife's dream.

But then, whether his wife even dreams that is up for grabs; it could well be that her dream is something Evžen had himself dreamt up in the first place. (In which case, perhaps the old crone is Evžen's super-ego after all!)

Surviving Life
Surviving Life

With all of this play with Freudian and Jungian constructs of the human unconscious throughout, it's no surprise that the film should resolve with a variation upon that old chestnut, the primal scene. However, there's nothing pat about the superficially cliché parlaying of same to resolve Surviving Life's narrative, for there's nothing about any number of sequences leading up to those final explicative scenes which can be taken at face value. For, just as Švankmajer himself advised us in the film's introduction, he had always wanted to create a film within which the orders of reality and dream are blurred. A most disingenuous warning, it must be said: such play has long been the meat and potatoes of the Švankmajerian oeuvre. But Surviving Life might represent the first time in his work that dream has so been blurred with the 'reality' of dream, which is to say, Surviving Life is Švankmajer's Inception, albeit one rather more resistant to a definitive parsing than Christopher Nolan's blockbuster. I have already recommended to myself a further viewing, the better to sift through the devil in the details, the better to discern the godhead in the unconscious mind. This though will have to await my procuring a DVD from BontonFilm.

Tales of the Night

As an admirer of Michel Ocelot's Kirikou films, beautiful folkloric silhouette animations of a slightly adult bent, I was intrigued to see how he'd handle Tales of the Night, a compendium of six fairy tales inspired by folklore originating from every which where, each tale buoyantly conceived and enacted in turn by two projectionist-sorceror's apprentices, a young actor and a young actress, and listed in the MIFF program as suitable for ages 8 and up, “lovingly animated in silhouetted 3D”.

“Silhouetted 3D”! How on Earth was that going to be accomplished? Silhouettes can have... girth?

Well, of course they can't. The 3D in Tales in fact serves principally to add depth to the composition of its backgrounds, seldom impinging upon the foregrounded action where the various fairy tales' protagonists do their bit to prevail over whatever circumstances the two young thespians' flights of fancy have dreamt up for them(selves) in the sequences just prior.

Occasionally the fairy tales' heroes and antagonists might move along the image's Z-axis but, for the most part, it's business as usual for Ocelot; the 3D in Tales, whilst not unpleasant, doesn't really add anything to what is, happily, already a perfectly pleasant way to while away an hour-and-a-half, much in line with his previous works. That said, I'd have rathered that Tales of the Night was made, like Ocelot's earlier animations, with a slightly older audience also in mind.

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

I wrote about The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye as many as three Little Lies Down ago.

The Kid With a Bike

The Kid With a Bike
The Kid With a Bike

The Dardenne brothers don't seem able to put a foot wrong. The Kid With a Bike is yet another terrific evocation of life on the fringes in struggletown Belgium, with a truly remarkable performance from its young lead (Thomas Doret) who plays Cyril, a boy strongly in denial of his abandonment by his father who, worse still, has not left Cyril his beloved bicycle.

Many are the adults who would like to help Cyril, but he has a terrifying propensity to bite the hands which feed him – figuratively and literally. In fact, Doret bodily throws himself so heartily into his role that I sincerely hope, for his wellbeing, that single takes were enough for the Dardennes! This all the more so as, while this film feels so real, its camerawork's dynamism and the images' compositional preciseness are such that one can't help but feel that some of its sequences must surely have taken several takes to get right. And, if so: poor Thomas! 'Cos he'd have had to have become just one big, giant bruise after a few takes of certain scenes in Kid With a Bike (and his castmates, too), such is the seeming reckless abandon with which he hurls himself about the place. (And not to forget that, at one point, he falls, with a sickening thud, out of a tall tree.)

I've gotta hand it to the Dardennes; they sure know how to work the smoke and mirrors to make it look like they're doing absolutely nothing of the sort, because, after all: seeing is believing, is it not? Oh, if only more filmmakers had such powers and knew to use them for such good! And so doing produced films which, like The Kid With a Bike and others of the Dardennes' before it, actually matter, actually manage to immerse the viewer in an appreciably 'real' world, and so consequently resonate long after the viewing is over.

The Mill and the Cross

Lech Majewski made for a very locquacious guest at this year's MIFF and it was fun to hear him pontificate at great tangential length on, for example, the very specific need for clouds shot in New Zealand (!) to round out his Breughel work-in-progress fantasia, The Mill and the Cross (the work being Breughel's 1564 painting “The Way to Cavalry”, the actor cast as Breughel... none other than Rutger Hauer).

The film itself, however, was hard to love, no matter how beguiling and/or grotesque some of its Inquisitorial and Passion play imagery, nor how intriguing and lofty its central conceit of presenting to us Breughel's epic painting, under construction, as a series of alfresco tableaux vivants, set against backdrops derived from actual Breughel paintings, each with umpteen superimposed planes of period-approved goings-on offset against it, with the allegorical aspects of “The Way to Cavalry”'s scenes being explained by Breughel as he goes about composing them.

Charlotte Rampling and Michael York make appearances too in what proves ultimately to be a curio more interesting in theory and in principle than in the experience of actually viewing it.

The Slap

Seeing the first two episodes of a television series soon to be broadcast is not something I would ordinarily make a priority of at a film festival, but I'm very glad I troubled to catch episodes 1 and 2 of The Slap on the biggest of the big screens in the Greater Union, before a full house, at this year's MIFF. For, atop enjoying those two episodes on their considerable merits, both in and of themselves as well as in successfully adapting portions of a book I greatly esteem, by an author, Christos Tsiolkas, whom I consider to be a really stand-up guy (and cinephile), seeing The Slap at MIFF has given me plenty of pause for thought on how narrow now is the gulf between television and cinema.

The Slap simply looked terrific projected onto the big screen. And of course it did – why wouldn't it, after all, when the present day TV industry standard, HD video, is what so many 'films' are now being shot on? The image quality is just superb; HD video needn't – and here, didn't – lose anything by being projected onto a cinema screen. And then there's The Slap's widescreen aspect ratio, something the cinema lorded over TV for the longest time, but which it no longer can claim bragging rights over. 16:9 is the norm for television now too.

There's certainly an irony in that, in television's earlier days, many shows were shot on film. And heck, live studio broadcasts were often filmed off television sets by studios and home viewers alike in order to record them for posterity!

Yet again, it is proven, that the more some things change, the more they stay the same.

Ruminations about the mutability of media aside, I'm really looking forward to the remaining episodes' broadcast later in the year on the ABC. Auntie's onto a winner with The Slap, and no mistake!

The Turin Horse

The Turin Horse
The Turin Horse

What an epic piece of transcendental miserabilism Béla Tarr latest (last?) film is. Some – if they even lasted the distance – might grizzle about The Turin Horse's amounting to little more than an exercise in aestheticising misery, but I'll have no truck with any such sanctimony here.

I was utterly mesmerised by The Turin Horse; I was there, in the image, windswept away. Inexorable, elemental forces were at play. Such beauty, such grace!, in the camera, gliding first this way and then that, pausing time to time to take stock of the precious little 'of interest' going on within a rough-hewn stone house in relief against a furious windstorm without, occasionally tiptoeing incrementally towards a window or doorway to get a better look at the deathly inhospitable land beyond, a world of increasingly little succour for the weatherbeaten father and daughter whose lives are the stuff of inescapable drudgery (and easy parody per this year's celebrated and well-travelled MIFF trailers), depicted in miniature and yet at great length, in The Turin Horse.

I've said it before – nobody, but nobody, gives long take like Béla Tarr. There are but 30 beautifully fluid, staggeringly well orchestrated shots in all of The Turin Horse's two-and-a-half hour runtime. That hoary old cliché about the camera being a character unto itself has seldom resounded so strongly. The camerawork finds a perfect accomplice in the score, in which variations upon the one figure are repeated time and again, its intensity swelling, pulsating, yet also sympathetic to the film's diegetic sound – when that house's door opens, the howl of the gale is just extraordinary – you are there, just as the sound of the wind always had been too, even with the door shut, integrated into, and perfectly modulated with the composed elements of, the overall soundscape.

Seeing The Turin Horse strongly reminded me of the Melbourne Cinémathèque's screening of Victor Sjöström's The Wind (1928) a few years ago when, in an inspired selection, it ran the music of the Dirty Three as The Wind's soundtrack, in turn reminding me of the Dirty Three's spine-tingling set at the Meredith Music Festival several years previous when the band and the elements were just as one. Supernatural forces certainly felt like they were at play that day; in The Turin Horse, similarly, an experience far transcending that of merely going to see a movie is on offer. Seeing it at MIFF – being it at MIFF – was an altogether transcendental experience, and one I'll long cherish.


Destined for release a little later this year through Rialto, Céline Sciamma's Tomboy is a lovely film on queer childhood graced by terrific, naturalistic performances. The kids in it are just superb, and the girl playing the title character's little sister is just adorable without any attempts on the director's part to imbue her with a contrived precocity as is so gratingly common in American TV and cinema in particular. I wrote a little more about Tomboy four Little Lies Down ago.

Zebraman 2: Attack On Zebra City

I wrote on this preposterous, throwaway but fairly enjoyable effort from Takashi Miike as many as four Little Lies Down ago. His other MIFF 2011 film, the samurai flick 13 Assassins, will be in release around these parts in just a few weeks and that I'm really looking forward to; I hear tell he doesn't wink at his audience even the once in it. Time will tell.

Monday, August 15, 2011

That was the 60th MIFF that was – Part II: Cold Fish through to Oki's Movie

Here's Part II of an A-Z of my 2011 MIFF, resuming from where I left off on Wednesday.


Cold Fish

You can read my thoughts on Sion Sono's calculatedly unhinged Cold Fish as few as two Little Lies Down ago. My getting around to his other MIFF 2011 film, Guilty of Romance, will have to wait for its Madman DVD release.

Essential Killing

Essential Killing
Essential Killing

I had very much looked forward to the second feature of Jerzy Skolimowski's comeback, and notwithstanding the interference run by some very inconsiderate, wouldn't-shut-the-fuck-up dingbats I had the misfortune to find myself sitting beside at the Forum, I enjoyed it very much.

Vincent Gallo, as Mohammed, a desperate Taliban fighter on the run in a palpably very alien environment – a wintry Eastern European hinterland rather than the desert rabbit warrens and plains of his flashbacks – puts his body on the line every bit as much as Skolimowski himself was wont to do, on either side of the camera, in the production of his earlier films. And hence: a First Blood for the 2010s, one where shades of grey in the morality-viewer identification nexus could scarcely be any shadier or greyer.

Highly accomplished sound design considerably elevates Essential Killing. In an incident early on in the film, Mohammed is subjected to an appreciably eardrum-pulverising attack which gives him about as awful a case of tinnitus as I'd care to imagine. The profundity of its effect upon him is very well conveyed and serves as an elegant aural metaphor for his inability to make sense of his plight, post-capture, in which he is at first taken to an Abu Ghraib-esque prison to be interrogated by thuggish American military – the piercing ringing in his head completely drowns out every word barked at him by his interlocutors, which he might very well not have been able to understand anyway – only to then be rendered to what we, but not he, can tell to be an Eastern European backwater, where, no matter how much of his hearing might return, he even more certainly wouldn't be able to understand anybody he should meet anyway. Whereupon he sets forth to make good an unlikely escape which will push his adherence to a halal diet to the very limit...

Fruit of Paradise

You can read my largely ecstatic response to the double-billing of Věra Chytilová's Fruit of Paradise and Jan Švankmajer's Surviving Life as few as three Little Lies Down ago, though were you to do so, I'd ask that you please bear in mind that I feel I need yet to qualify an ill articulated assertion or two I made back then, and about Surviving Life in particular. This is something I will do asap, in Part III of my MIFF 2011 A-Z.

Innocent Saturday

Innocent Saturday
Alexander Mindadze's film, set around the discovery by a young member of the Communist Party faithful that all is not at all well with the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, really rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way at this year's MIFF, and while I can't say I loved it, I believe I can at least see where it's coming from.

The chief problem had with it seems to have been the ostensible idiocy of the conduct of the film's lead, Valerij (Anton Shagin), who fails to skip town with a pretty young thing by the narrowest of margins – a broken heel robs them of a ticket the hell outta there on evidently the only passenger train leaving Prypiat, a town an atom's split away from the smouldering reactor – and then foregoes any further wholehearted attempts to leave town, instead falling intractably back in with a bunch of knockabout good-time locals, including some erstwhile bandmates he'd previously fallen very heavily out with. (Matter of fact, he'd denounced some of them!)

Instead of fleeing, knowing that every second he and his friends remain in town further imperils, or at least, compromises, their very lives – as well as those, it is understood, of successive generations – they instead all throw themselves headlong into the bacchanalia surrounding a party for a triple wedding, as evidently do too the films' cameraman (Oleg “4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days” Mutu) and editors Dasha Danilova and Ivan Lebedev – the screen is seldom still for more than a few frames at a time!

But here's the thing: Valerij's mannered, seemingly self-destructive conduct is not in fact so very odd; there's tonnes of this sort of gallows saturnalia in cinema produced and/or set in the states of yesteryear's Soviet Bloc. In, for example, the 1960s cinema of Slovakian auteur Juraj Jakubisko, or in the more recent cinema of the more celebrated Emir Kusturica, as well as in the films of many others, there is reflected clearly (and, from my own experiences in that neck of the woods, most assuredly!) something of the fatalistic character of the peoples in those parts of the world. For these are people who, if go down they must, they'll go down swinging...

(An aside: Anton Shagin is saddled in Innocent Saturday with a haircut-moustache combo so ghastly (but appreciably historically accurate) that I completely failed to recognise him as the actor who was so terrific as Mels in Valeriy Todorovskiy's absolutely fantastic musical of a couple of years ago, Hipsters. Oh won't some kindly soul release that around these parts on DVD? Must I do everything myself?

International Shorts – Misfits

Las Palmas
Las Palmas

There was a clear stand-out in this fairly strong thematic compilation of shorts, and that was Swedish animator Johannes “Puppetboy” Nyholm's ingenious and utterly hilarious Las Palmas, in which several marionettes staffing a holiday resort, patronised by several other marionettes, have to contend with the havoc wrought by one most unruly tourist, played by a (live, human) baby!

Johannes Nyholm has uploaded an excerpt from the wonderful Las Palmas to Vimeo – this you have to see!

Two other strong works also came from Sweden, both giving the impression of being calling cards from directors keen to make features. Adam Berg's In makes for a very atmospheric and suspenseful several minutes mostly spent watching two men fumble about in the dark in a railway tunnel which seems to have more than the stock standard number of mysteries deep within it, while Hugo Lilja's gripping, half hour-long The Unliving riffs on the idea of zombies becoming a new proletariat, and is only just beginning to get to the meatiest of issues surrounding the difficult logistics and ethics of this scenario when it ends, too soon by half.

Still, The Unliving is so assured a production that I wouldn't be at all surprised if it reappears in its entirety within a feature-length extrapolation upon itself, so confidently are its themes, narrative directions and aesthetics handled.

The last of this package worth mentioning is Jonathan Caouette's All Flowers in Time, a happy little mindfuck of a short in which Chloë Sevigny clearly enjoys herself no end and a certain amount of wry social commentary gets utterly swamped by a relentless ADHD cavalcade of video art silly buggerising about. Still, boring it isn't.

International Shorts – O Canada!

Scenes from the Suburbs
The main attraction of this shorts package was always going to be the Spike Jonze/Arcade Fire collaboration, Scenes from the Suburbs. My anticipation was high; my expectations, however, were not met.

I probably should have read more from the get-go into the “Scenes” of the title – it hints at an excerptedness, an incompleteness, to match what the film ultimately feels like it delivers. It's most unsatisfying; Scenes from the Suburbs feels like it's just scraped the surface of a story that needs another hour for its telling.

The premise is well set – it concerns a few teens' coming of age in the thick of inter-suburban warfare, with the action unfolding at a measured pace and with songs from Arcade Fire's “The Suburbs” album intermittently underscoring the narrative. Time and care has been taken to ensure that the milieu and antagonisms are well established; the characters well fleshed out, the songs well used...

But unfortunately, half an hour in, Scenes from the Suburbs just ends, utterly anticlimactically, apropos of nothing in particular, just as its narrative was starting to take matters into interesting directions. It's most frustrating, and suggestive that the entire enterprise was really not as well conceived as it might have been.

Of the other shorts in “O Canada!”, Nadia Litz's How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You! is a well performed, blackly funny two-hander, pleasingly following through to a satisfying conclusion a gross-out literalisation of new age notions concerning the benefits of the expulsion of negative emotions from one's, and, in a couple, one another's, bodies. And two short shorts involving trips to medical professionals, Anne Émond's single-shot Sophie Lavoie and Martin Thibaudeau's Cold Blood, both successfully subvert expectations to generate genuine pathos.

Into Eternity

I've already written as much as I care to on Into Eternity as few as two Little Lies Down ago.

Jeonju Digital Project 2011

Jean-Marie Straub's An Heir is unmistakeably a Straub film, for better and for worse. It certainly won't win anyone over who's seen anything previously from the Straubs and found it too austere and mealy-mouthed for their liking. Still: there's a tracking shot through beautiful Alsatian countryside to enliven An Heir's ponderous literary proceedings, which are in all likelihood allusively apropos of matters I'm ill-equipped to grasp or comment upon at the time of writing.

In To the Devil, Claire Denis has pre-emptively produced a documentary DVD extra for an as yet unfilmed feature of hers set around the alluvial borders of French Guyana and Surinam and focusing on the exploits of a gold miner of singular renown in the area, one whom you might say is something of “a character”. At least, he certainly will be once Denis and actor Jean-Christophe Folly, accompanying her on this shoot, are through with him. Interesting, but only to a point, and that point's one a few minutes shy of To the Devil's 45 minute runtime.

José Luis Guerín's Memories of a Morning is far and away the most engaging of the three films in the Jeonju Digital Project 2011, a veritable Rashomon ad absurdum, if you will, in which the factual death by suicidal plummet of a testifiably mediocre violinist in Barcelona is borne posthumous documentary witness through the recollections of a great number of neighbouring apartment-dwellers and shopkeepers.

While Memories is concerned with a tragic incident, and umpteen different takes upon it, it's very charming and funny and paints a delightful picture of modern-day suburban Barcelonan life. It comes highly recommended, though I'm not sure how easy it'll be to track down, not least for a fair while, anyhow.


Lars von Trier's latest film is a strident rejoinder to anybody who might ever think it wise to tell you when you're depressed that you should simply get over it – that, whatever it is, “it's not the end of the world”. Because, in fact, it fucking well is.


Just as with his notorious Antichrist (2009), von Trier opens proceedings with a sequence of supremely beautifully composed, ultra-slo-mo images, though here in exquisite full colour rather than in Antichrist's equally beauteous black-and-white. And while the film asserts that it's in two parts – "Part One" principally concerning a wedding which goes comically, then simply, very sadly, wrong, and "Part Two" the imminent apocalypse, beginning just a few days after the wedding – it really must be considered a film of parts in number three. For the introductory sequence features imagery synthesising elements of both the other two parts, with that imagery indigenous, as it will turn out, to neither of them, such that one can't help but suspect that the introduction must be a prognostication on the part of the film's melancholic protagonist, the bride Justine (oh, The Misfortunes of Virtue indeed!), of the apocalyptic events to come – in fact, she even explicitly big-notes her powers of clairvoyance at one point in the narrative proper – and hence: her debilitating, wedding-sabotaging despair, on what should have been the happiest day of her life. Because, when you know Melancholia to be bearing down upon you – for that is the name of the planet destined to collide with, and destroy, the Earth – what can you do other than play into its hands and fall irretrievably into despond?

Kirsten Dunst is, as everybody has said, very good indeed as Justine; a fine supporting cast has everyone from Charlotte Gainsbourg, Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt through to Kiefer Sutherland and Udo Kier (as a dismayed wedding planner) really enjoying themselves as well.

A Melancholia and Innocent Saturday double-bill would make for an interesting inter-film conversation. But while I can only mildly enthuse over Innocent Saturday; I won't equivocate one little bit on my feelings for Melancholia – I think it's grand. One of the best at this year's fest, fer sure.

Oki's Movie

I wish I'd also seen Hong's The Day He Arrives at this year's MIFF, but, for now, all I have to say about the cinema of Hong Sang-soo can be found in a blog post, featuring a couple of paragraphs on Oki's Movie, had two Little Lies Down ago.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

That was the 60th MIFF that was – Part I: Autoluminescent through to Closing Night

It had been amongst my best intentions to post several dispatches from the frontlines of the 60th Melbourne International Film Festival but, too soon!, the end of the festival was upon me and I find that my blog post tally for MIFF 2001, including this post (but not, of course, including its implicit sequels), runs to but five instalments.

Still, I have no regrets, especially as one of my other outlets for waxing cinephilic, 3RRR's “SmartArts” program afforded me, in the absence last Thursday of its ailing host Richard Watts, but in the presence of kindly Triple R legend Tim Thorpe, an unprecedented 45 minutes of airtime to talk about all things MIFF. (I'll be on again tomorrow morning, too, at 11.30, with Richard back in the fold, to prattle on a little more about the 60th MIFF.)

Meanwhile though, here's Part I of an A-Z of my 2011 MIFF. More will follow in coming days.


Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard
Dirs: Lynn-Maree Milburn & Richard Lowenstein
Present for a post-screening Q&A: Richard Lowenstein; Genevieve McGuckin, and Mick Harvey

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard
Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard

And so I begin with, in fact, the final film I saw at MIFF2011, and a very satisfying way it was indeed to close the festival (bar the shouting... of some last drinks).

One surefire testimony to an effective rockumentary is whether it inspires the viewer to want to further investigate the recording career of the documentees. I'm only really familiar with the late Howard's (no relation) early work with The Boys Next Door and The Birthday Party, but I'm now very keen to get better acquainted with his latter day projects, and you can call me a Jenny-come-lately all you like!

Instigated by Howard himself, who was aware at the time that he mightn't have terribly long left to live owing to a liver disease likely linked (if not by this film, directly) to a many years-long heroin habit, this heartfelt documentary's many pleasures include a wide-ranging selection of talking heads paying tribute to his influence upon the art of rock guitar, an influence which has clearly hitherto gone under-acknowledged. Additionally, I really appreciated Wim Wenders' appearance, which shed some light on how post-Birthday Party bands of both Nick Cave's and Rowland S. Howard's wound up featuring prominently in his 1987 classic Wings of Desire, something I'd long been curious about.

I saw Autoluminescent with a dear old friend in Matt Boyle, a most apt person to see this film with indeed as, way back in the mid-'90s, he and I performed some volunteer work at the then Performing Arts Museum, auditing its unruly film and video collection ahead of handing it over to the then Cinemedia. Now, come 2011 and lo!, and behold, if that isn't in the early moments of Autoluminescent some of the very footage Matt and I excavated during our PAM audit, in which a very young Nick Cave, Rowland S. Howard, and friend ham it up hilariously in a thoroughly ramshackle (presumed mock-)interview.

Volunteer work – the gift to others that often, and at the most surprising moments, keeps on giving back!

A Useful Life
Dir: Federico Veiroj

A Useful Life
A Useful Life

An enjoyable featurette in which filmmaker and Senses of Cinema founder Bill Mousoulis' doppelgänger Jorge (Jorge Jellinek) learns that, yes, while Cinema is Life (he has toiled away for 25 years at the (fictionalised) Uruguayan Cinematheque in Montevideo ahead of its (equally fictionalised) close, due to its having become financially unsustainable), when Life becomes Cinema – as, for example, upon the now jobless Jorge's being let loose into the real world, with his every action newly being given a rousing, big band soundtrack (and who hasn't fantasised about that?), and with those actions now even extending to indulging in a little carefree stairway hoofing – things can take a turn for the even better. Because, you never know – you might just get a root.

Flip crassness aside, A Useful Life is a really charming film about cinephilia. It was paired with The Little Tailor (d. Louis Garrel), another film steeped in a love of the seventh art but about which I have much less kind things to say. The Little Tailor is not bad, per se, but to anybody wanting to re-live the joys of the French New Wave, they're still to be found fresher in the readily accessible early films of Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Rivette, Chabrol, etc (though it's early Godard and Truffaut in particular that The Little Tailor is channelling). Disappointing.

Animation Shorts

Kubla Khan
Kubla Khan

In a mostly underwhelming compilation of recent animated work, Joan C. Gratz's Kubla Khan stood out, with Gratz's psychedelically fluid claymation, rendered in her patentedly painterly style, a fine match for an accompanying recitation of William Taylor Coleridge's opium-sozzled poem. Hooray! – you can watch it here.

The one Australian short in this package was Aww Jeez (d. Michael Greaney), also a claymation and which got some easy laughs from riffing on a scenario in which an adolescent Jesus Christ is babysat by a rehabilitated Satan, with their stickybeak neighbour, Richard Dawkins, getting a droll word or two in edgeways.

Artavazd Pelechian Shorts

This program of three films was unreservedly one of the clear highlights of this year's MIFF, and you can read more about my thoughts on it two Little Lies Down ago.


I feel a little bad about rubbishing a film which, it has been made well known, is a project very dear and personal to its maker, festival guest Mike Mills. But there's no dodging it: well made as it might be, Beginners lays on thick a self-conscious, greeting cards level of earnest quirkiness that, for mine, sabotages all hope it has of ingratiating itself on any sort of emotionally resonant level, notwithstanding good performances from a twinkle-eyed Christopher Plummer, a Mona Lisa-lite Mélanie Laurent and a mopey Ewan McGregor. Poor McGregor really doesn't have it easy as the film's lead; he's saddled with occasionally having to converse with a dog, to name but one of several ghastly, trite conceits and cloying narrative devices Mills imposes upon him and this film, to its considerable detriment.

Rabid dogs – talking or otherwise – couldn't have dragged me to the “Talking Pictures” conversation with Mills after seeing this film. Thing is, though, that I know other people will like Beginners for the very same reasons I didn't. I'll try not to begrudge them that.

Black Venus

Black Venus
Black Venus

Post-colonial feminist film theory has a new standard-bearer. Abdellatif Kechiche's follow-up to his superb The Secret of the Grain was my feel-bad hit of the festival, an unrelenting, unrepentingly harrowing and very long (159 minutes) depiction of one South African woman's suffering at the hands of two men who enchained her to a hateful, grotesquely exploitative and alcoholic life as the “Hottentot Venus”, an early 19th century freakshow attraction, with first one of them manipulatively parading her before London's incredulous lower classes and then the other, even more forcibly, mock-setting her upon the Parisienne aristocracy. Alas, even worse indignities were to follow.

I generally bristle at talk of “brave” performances, as such is used all too often to describe when some Hollywood lovely is merely cast against type in some sort of halfway unflattering role (perhaps appearing without make-up (the horror!) or as a dreadful homosexual (further horror!)) But Yahima Torres is simply extraordinary as Saartjie Baartman, a role which calls for her to exhibit exactly the sort of behaviours – and to a similarly uncomfortable extent, the anatomy – which so tawdrily fascinated audiences rich and poor in the early 1810s, just as they did even more so those French anatomists who were keen to announce the “Hottentot Venus”, with her very pronounced buttocks and elongated labia minora, as the “missing link” between the animal kingdom and mankind.

Really strong stuff, I doubt I could ever bring myself to watch Black Venus again, but power to Abdellatif Kechiche for making it in the first place.

Class Relations

You can read my thoughts on Straub-Huillet's take on Kafka's Amerika as few as two Little Lies Down ago.

Closing Night – Drive

I should perhaps consider myself a little fortunate, but, unlike on Opening Night, this time I was where the action was, in cavernous old Cinema 6 in the Greater Union complex. Having missed her Opening Night address, I was happy to catch Michelle Carey's close-of-festival address to the freeloading and faithful, which inevitably riffed a little on the 60th anniversary of the august festival she is newly Artistic Director of.

Her speech considered the manifold ways in which the business of running a film festival has changed over the 60 years since MIFF emerged out in the Dandenongs. Certainly, it's changed terrifically even in just the last few with, for example, almost half of the 'films' being projected at this year's MIFF being done so digitally – just as more and more of them are being produced using digital technologies in the first place.

The media landscape has changed very dramatically in even more recent times, too, and the one bum note of Carey's gracious wrap-up speech – little understood then as such by most of the crowd there, I suspect – relates to these very developments. It came when Carey acknowledged the sterling efforts of MIFF's blogathon heroes, leading to a well deserved round of applause for the six intrepid (foolhardy?) new media exemplars who'd each of them committed at the festival's outset, for no recompense, to endeavour to see, and regularly write upon, at least 60 films (or rather, “sessions”) during the festival. Sadly, however, none of those six were in Cinema 6 to receive their thank-you but rather had been, as had I on Opening Night, shunted off to one of the smaller cinemas at Greater Union, where once again no transmission was made of the events taking place in Cinema 6 and folks were left waiting in the dark, so to speak, for the film to begin.

One of the blogathonners, Luke Buckmaster, has already been vocal in his understandable disgruntlement at this careless slighting of the time and energies he and his fellow bloggers had devoted to the festival and, by extension, of an all-too-conceivable concomitant first principle undervaluing on the festival's part of press operating for non-traditional media outlets.

Myself, I think any arts organisation which still presumes traditional media to somehow be inherently superior to new media should be disabused of this notion pronto and not just because it's not, ipso facto, correct, but also because it's surely in these organisations' best interests to be mindful that coverage of their events in the new media world doesn't have limited currency the way print media can. Bad press nowadays can stay bad press for a very, very long time. Add to that the immediacy with which news and opinion can now be widely (and unpredictably) dispersed, wholly removed from the hidebound publication schedules of traditional media, and I think MIFF would be very wise to give a good deal of consideration to how it strategises its new media initiatives for next year's edition, with especial consideration necessary as to how it looks after those it engages with who work within that realm.

But let's put that behind us now and move onto the Closing Night film, Drive.

Nicolas Winding Refn's latest, Drive has an impassive protagonist in Ryan Gosling's Driver not a million miles – if several hundred years – removed from that of his previous film, Valhalla Rising.

Quite a few parts Jef Costello (Alain Delon in Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï (1967)), the taciturn Driver works in Hollywood as... a driver, making a few extra quid on the side doing the odd getaway.

He'd probably get away with it, too, if it weren't for his fancying the woman (Carey Mulligan) at the end of the corridor on the floor of the apartment block where he lives. It transpires that her husband, immediately upon his release from jail, is being set up to take a fall by local mobsters, a fall which will threaten to take the Driver down as well.

There's a little bit more to the plot than that, but some of it's just the stuff of loose ends at any rate, and whether or not those ends get tied up is less interesting to contemplate than the film's aesthetics, which, with more than a gentle tip of a Trilby, harken brightly back to 1980s Michael Mann equally as to the heyday of film noir; one scene especially is very highly reminiscent of Robert Aldrich's classic Kiss Me Deadly (1955). But then, as the beardy grand old doyen of Australian film crit, David Stratton told Cinema 6 in an anecdote introducing the screening, this should come as no surprise. For Refn is a cinema brat, regularly taken along to Cannes from an early age by an uncle in the business.

A lot of fun, Drive isn't, however, for the squeamish; the violence in it, certainly played to some extent for laughs, is sudden, bloody and unapologetically brutal.

But those who like their films cine-literate, along Tarantino-esque lines, and who missed it at MIFF will still have an opportunity to get a real kick out of Drive when it hits cinemas in Melbourne mid-October.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dispatches from the frontlines of the 60th MIFF continued: Peter Tscherkassky + days 5, 7 and 8

Post Mortem
I had heard such good things about Chilean director Pablo Larraín's previous film, Tony Manero, that Post Mortem came as a great disappointment. An insipid, middle-aged gent works at a morgue and begins an infatuation with a down-and-out neighbouring burlesque performer, rendering him completely oblivious to the horror he abundantly evidently ought be feeling at becoming an accessory to atrocities being perpetrated against Salvador Allende and his regime. His is the most excruciatingly slow of slow-burn descents into madness; were only that he – and the film overall – were much less lifeless. Alfredo Castro's performance in the lead and the extremely drab cinematography both conspire to utterly enervate the film of any and all vitality and to altogether void the final still shot of any of the pathos and horror that its greatly overextended duration suggests it was clearly aspiring to.

Into Eternity

Into Eternity

This is an interesting Danish documentary considering best practices for the safe disposal of Finland's – and, by extension, the world's – nuclear waste, such that it will be safe not just for the foreseeable future but also far, far beyond – 100,000 years into the future, to be precise. For the most part needlessly subtitled – most of Into Eternity's energy industry talking heads speak perfectly good English – more is made in the program blurb of Michael Madsen's documentary asking the “mind-bending central question” of how we communicate with people 100,000 years from now than in the film itself, which doesn't really start to probe this line of inquiry until past the halfway mark.

Even then the interrogation doesn't much assume the more cosmic dimensions I'd hoped it might, instead giving more consideration to matters of governance, bureaucracy and statesmanship. It isn't until close to the film's end when the more interesting, philosophically weighty questions are explored along the lines of: given human nature, now and projected into the distant future, is it better to try to communicate to the future of mankind the existence of extremely dangerous materials buried not all that deep underground (the film doesn't countenance the possibility of any other form of intelligence roaming the Earth within the next 100,000 years), or is it better to cover the whole thing up such that it might become lost to posterity, presuming that it will never later be discovered and so never imperil anybody?

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

Oh, such gender trouble as is explored in Marie Losier's documentary on the pandrogyne that was (and, even beyond the grave, is) the union of industrial music pioneer Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and their* late inamorata Lady Jaye Breyer!
* Gender trouble always leads to pronoun trouble, as well we all know, but here it assumes a whole new dimension!
Losier's Ballad is a lovely, scattershot tribute, punctuated by kooky performance artsy goings-on, to a relationship forged by a fascinating pair of individuals who sought to deny their own individuation in favour of becoming not just one with another but actually becoming one another. It's unavoidably weighted more heavily towards Genesis' accounts of things, due to his/hers/theirs, of the two of them, being the life spent more in the public eye and, hence, having been well documented; additionally, much of the production occurred after Lady Jaye's passing.

That said, one can't help but feel that Genesis' account of her (I use that pronoun now in the interests of simplicity) all-consuming love for her partner – which extended to the former Neil Andrew Megson's undergoing several cosmetic surgery procedures to greater resemble Lady Jaye – and vice versa) – tells it much like Lady Jaye would have told it, too. They really were each other's other half, literalised to an extent that may never hitherto have been realised in the union of one human being with another. And, hence, pandrogyny.

Here's hoping that some bright spark – hello the folks at the MQFF! – might think to lure Genesis out here for a presentation on this wonderful new gender construct/destruct of their own, peculiar devising.

Peter Tscherkassky – Programs One, Two and Masterclass
I think Peter Tscherkassky made for the most fascinating guest MIFF (in partnership with ACMI) has had in all my many years of engagement with the festival. While he was present for screenings of two exquisitely well projected packages of his extraordinary materialist short avant-garde works, and for generous and enlightening Q&As after both, the peak of Tscherkassky's visitation to Melbourne was surely in his gift of a masterclass to this year's MIFFgoers.

Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine

In this lecture, which he invited us to interrupt any time we had questions, Tscherkassky took us through the organisational principles, philosophies, dark-room jiggery-pokery and aleatory means of footage-wrangling behind his Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005), in which footage principally taken from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is manipulated in conjunction with footage of those parts of a reel of film which are not normally ever projected – the instructions for a projectionist etched upon a few frames of any given reel of film ahead of that film's projection – to produce both a stroboscopic re-narrativisation of the Sergio Leone classic as well as a film essay upon the film's projection of its very self by its own protagonist!

The irony of Tscherkassky's, this most analog of practitioners', taking us through Instructions, screened ahead of the lecture and then in portions during it, through a necessary recourse to digital frame-by-frame analysis was, I'm sure, not lost on him, even as it wasn't spoken of during his address. (In fact, he fielded so many questions regarding his practice from a very engaged audience that it really is surprising it never came up. Whereas, in one of the earlier post-program Q&As, the matter of how he feels about women... for example, his mother, did! Perhaps it is ever the fate of the Viennese to be asked such things?)

But so dense is Tscherkassky's layering of fragmentary images, and so rapid the montage, consistent with a lot of avant-garde film practice, that in order for him to illuminate certain key frames within Instructions, which might not even have been consciously absorbed on an initial viewing, it was, of course, necessary to use a digital rendition of the film.

His wonderful masterclass aside, another clear highlight of MIFF 2011 has been seeing Tscherkassky's CinemaScope trilogy projected off superb 35mm prints. Outer Space and Dream Work, in particular, are just utterly ecstatic experiences, every bit as viscerally affective and entrancing as they are virtuoso works of dark-room voodoo.

Oki's Movie
Or: Four Variations upon a Narrative Construct in Search of a Greater Truth (in Filmmaking, as in Life. Because All Life is Cinema, and the Cinema is Life). Or something like that.

This was my first, long overdue, engagement with the much exalted, renownedly cinephilic, reflexive cinema of Hong Sang-soo, and it was every bit that as much as I'd been led to believe. As to how I feel about it: I'm not yet sure, beyond knowing I'd like to see more of his work. Watching Oki's Movie, I got the feeling of an auteur striving for something beyond that which a single film can contain, can communicate; I got a real sense that Hong's approach to filmmaking might well be of a more oeuvrist ambition. Of course, I won't be able to test that hypothesis without seeing more of his films (and, alas, it looks like the screenings of his other film at this year's MIFF, The Day He Arrives, fall inconveniently for me). Still, colour me most intrigued.

And hat's off for the wonderfully awkward filmmaker Q&A depicted in the first of Oki's Movie's four story strands in which a filmmaker, post-screening, is grilled persistently by an audience member, not apropos his film at all but rather along much more personal lines than etiquette ever allows in these forums. But then, cinema is life... life is cinema...

Cold Fish
I enjoyed Sion Sono's Cold Fish much, much more than I suspect I should, in good conscience, ever have been able to. Offering up something of a highly bizarre love pentangle, Cold Fish is of that ilk of extreme Japanese cinema where I have no idea to what extent its cruelties and misanthropy – and especially its misogyny – are the stuff of postmodernist fun and games or to what extent they're simply an extension of the often matter-of-factly rape-y goings-on in films from the heyday of pinku eiga. In Cold Fish, how many parts wallowing in grotesquerie and taboo-tweaking (but... whose taboos? Only ours, as Westerners?) is Sono indulging in to how many parts black-as-pitch, satirical social commentary?

Cold Fish

This makes for a complex coming-to-terms with my own enjoyment of Cold Fish. I'm pretty sure Sono is playing its ghastliest sequences for laughs, and a Melbourne audience, almost despite itself in sometime disbelief, myself included, was forthcoming with them.

Truth be told, I do get a kick out of having my sensibilities challenged, and political correctness be damned, but with a film like Cold Fish, especially when so very well made – Sono is a very gifted filmmaker, and no mistake – there's always a strange aftertaste, and I'm never sure how much of it is distaste, and how much of it wonderment at how little I really know about, in this instance, Japanese culture, tempered by an uncertainty over whether I really wish to understand it better. Might my enjoyment of a film like Cold Fish, where part of the pleasure has to lie in being gobsmacked at the perceived sheer temerity and transgressiveness of its makers and the images and scenarios they've crafted, be lesser or greater compromised for better understanding the societal and cultural conditions which gave rise to it in the first place? And, were I to learn more about such things, is whether I enjoy it or not something I should then ascribe any importance to anyway? On learning more, there might be much weightier concerns to be troubled by than that which is contained by a few reels of film.