Wednesday, April 30, 2008

IFFBoston - Days 5 & 6

Bruce McDonald is an interesting director. He was kinda like a Canadian Alex Cox or Jim Jarmusch back in 89 and 90 with Roadkill and Highway 61. His legend goes that when accepting his prize at a Canadian film festival for Roadkill he declared that money would be put to good use for some hashish. To tell the truth I haven't followed McDonald since those days but I can say that The Tracy Fragments is on hell of an interesting movie. Filled to the breaking point with style and substance it assaults the senses with multiple images (yes, fragments) on the screen at once. Sometimes more than you can possibly process. And not just static images but moving ones, naturally. Some are a peek into Tracy's (Ellen Page) memories, some are from her imagination and others are there to evoke her feelings at the moment. It's an impressive film making effort if not a complete success. Sometimes, as you might imagine, it can come across a bit music video-y, but Bruce McDonald is so masterful with his use of music in his films that even some of those moments gave me goose bumps.

What prevents this technique of having the screen split into multiple pieces from becoming filmic wankery is that it completely serves the story rather than the other way around. Watching Time Code was fun, but honestly at the end it seemed more like watching someone's experiment than watching a heartfelt story. The Tracy Fragments is an adaptation of a book and the experimentation that is up on the screen feels more like McDonald trying to get at those passages in the book that you normally cannot with a film. You find the reason in his distribution of the frames and how many fragments there are, and in the few occasions it opens up to only the one frame, the importance of image is immediate -- it's extremely effective.

Right, what's it about? Tracy narrates her own story of when her younger brother went missing and she ran away from her dysfunctional home and high school where her fellow students constantly tease her for her lack of breasts and overall androgynous appearance. At first, when the narration started I was worried that we might be in for 90 minutes of painful teenage diary musings and over emoting, but the ship is quickly steadied and the bleakness of Tracy's home life is balanced with some brilliant realizations of teenage daydreams and the welcome humor that comes with Tracy's vivid imagination.

The Tracy Fragments is a hardcore R rated movie simply for the language and subject matter that it delves into. This is not the Ellen Page from Juno even though I can picture it finding a warm reception in the heart of every misfit high school girl across the land. With Juno still ringing through the heads of many of these girls it could be a cult sensation but it's not an easy picture to absorb or sell or cross any sort of demographic. But then it wouldn't be a Bruce McDonald film then, would it? I think it's safe to say, like his early work, this film will find its audience for years to come.

Damn my lack of a segue.

The last film I took in on Monday night was easily my most anticipated. Guy Maddin's newest, My Winnipeg. Funded in part by The Documentary Channel (I'm guessing this is a Canadian thing) it chronicles the life of Winnipeg alongside the early file of the filmmaker himself. It's quite hypnotic and astonishing and hilarious and mystifying and wholly original. I mention The Documentary Channel because the stories that are told in My Winnipeg about Winnipeg seem so outlandish that you're constantly laughing and shaking your head in disbelief. It can't possibly be true that a stable full of horses broke loose from a fire and froze solid in the river with their heads sticking out and that this became a make out spot resulting in a child birth boom 9 months later. But Mr. Maddin's half hour Q&A that followed said that indeed every bit of the fantastical bits of Winnipeg and his own history was throughly researched and indeed true.

It wouldn't matter either way because the movie is amazingly put together in his usual style of different film stocks and sepia tones, but in this case mixed together with archival footage so that at times you're not sure if you're seeing recreations of Winnipeg's past or the real deal. He narrates the movie himself, and said that in future premiers he will do live narrations, and is pretty up-front about the recreations he creates to bring forth moments from his own past, but in sequences like the old ladies placing themselves in front of chainsaws to protest the destruction of Winnipeg's (and the world's?) smallest park -- a couple square feet of land with a tree growing out of it in the middle of a road, you have to wonder. Or, What If Day? Seriously?

The highlights of the movie are certainly these surreal archaic moments of Winnipeg's past brought to life but Maddin gets some good mileage out of dredging up some achingly true moments from his own. One of the funniest moments comes from his mother's reaction to his sister coming home in a panic after having hit a dear with her car. Instead of helping his sister cope with the situation she turns it into an inquisition, positive that despite the blood and fur on the grill of the car she was out having sex, "Was it the swim team or the man with the tire iron?", much to his sister's mortification.

Even thought the spine of the film is based around Guy Maddin trying to escape Winnipeg like it's the Corleone family, it's a very loving tribute to the city. It takes it's many digs at the sleepiness (the highest rate of sleepwalking is found in Winnipegers don't you know) and such, in the end you feel the love. Even though he said he has every expectation to get run out of town when he does the hometown premier. I have little doubt in saying that this is my favorite Guy Maddin film to date. It should be getting it's formal distribution in the coming months and I implore all to go check it out. It may be his most accessible, but in his case (and for the most part) I don't think that's a bad thing at all.

Here's how IFFBoston '08 breaks down for me -- best to least best:

1. My Effortless Brilliance
2. Mister Lonely
3. My Winnipeg
4. The Tracey Fragments
5. The Beaver Trilogy
6. Transsiberian

I'll try and get the Frownland smackdown out there and Padraic is making me feel like I should give a write up to the three or four short features I vidied at the fest. So there may be some bonus features in the future. Also look for some youtube to be added to these posts in the next couple days. But for now, I'm checking out. It's been a great fest this year and with the summer at the door I feel like I can comfortably sink right into Iron Man without a trace of guilt. Not that I would anyway. Cheers.

On Foot Knots on the Theater Box

Day 4, Part 1 - International Competition 2

Day 4 got off to a slow start with the Romanian director Radu Jude's Alexandra. When you know you are looking at 11 subtitled shorts for the day, it can be tough to begin with a 26 minute drama about a squabbling couple filmed entirely with a shaking hand-held camera. It doesn't help when you are in the first few rows, but the directorial equation of handheld = real has never really done much for me. Similar to Bela Tarr's early domestic dramas, Jude certainly captures the feeling of a family in disarray, and this is probably harder to pull of than it appears (hold camera, tell actors to yell at each other), but it isn't much fun.

Yesterday I may have lied when I said that she was the cutest little girl in the world. While the pigtails are always nice, Marie-Felixe Allard is even younger, gets to wear glasses, and curses up a storm in David Uloth's La Lili à Gilles, winner of the of the Montreal World Film Festival prize for best Canadian short. Ostensibly about a son trying to cope with his ailing father (another recurring theme this week), it's really just an excuse to fill up the father's house with cool Gilliam-style oddities (come to think of it, it actually looks more like J.F. Sebastian's pad in Blade Runner). Shot with dark edges around the frame lending a touch of claustrophobia, Uloth achieves the desired effect...until he breaks the spell with an extended woe-is-me soliloquy from the son.

After this double-shot of family angst, the final three pictures were a relief, starting with a five minute quickie
A piedi nudi sul palco, which Babel Fish translates from the Italian as On foot knots on the theater box in English. Based on the French title given, I'll go with something like Naked Feet on the Stage. Consisting solely of the hardest acting audition ever (the actress must sing, play piano, make animal sounds, dance, and, this was a nice break. Thank you Andrea Rovetta.

Just when I was thinking it was going to be a slow day at the Vendome, I got La Secret de Salomon! Staring Lionel Abelanski (a regular on French television and easily the biggest "star" I've seen so far) as Adam Goldman, Salomon is a simple story of a man who begins to turn invisible. Initially, he is only unjustly marked absent for work, but soon people are slamming into him on the street and making out in elevators while he stands in the corner. Initially depressed, Adam learns from his grandfather (Salomon) that this is only a family tradition. Nicely forshadowed in an opening sequence, we learn that Salomon not only escaped death at the hands of the Nazi's, but also became a renowned spy thanks to his powers. As Abelanski learns the benefits of his gift (ladies' shower of course), he discovers that he can only return to visibility once he "finds himself." While writer/director David Charhon's short is probably the odds-on favorite to win the audience prize, it may be a bit unfair. Not only does he benefit from the considerable comedic talent of Abelanski, but he somehow was able to afford the rights to Nina Simone's "New Day," the score from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and not one, but two, Elvis songs. It was a bit of a shock to hear "Suspicious Minds" after three days of listening to soundtracks composed by the director's friends.

IC2 closed with a great claymation short by Belgium's own Vincent Bierrewaerts. You just realize how incredible the creative capacities of people are when you see shorts like Le Ponte. Bierrewaerts is just some guy in his corner of the world, and yet he has this amazing vision and talent to create an entirely believable alternate world (pictured above) and bring it to life. The world in this case being a father and son who are seemingly cut off from the rest of civilization. The father is happy to have things stay the way they are, but as the boy grows, he learns that there is an entire city just a few miles below, but inaccessible because of a broken bridge (ponte). The ending doesn't entirely make sense (the title bridge turns out to be superfluous), but I'll let it slide. This won best film (including full-length features!) from the Francophone community at the Brussels Animation Festival a few months ago, as well as best short film there, and if the FCMB has an animation award, it should win here too.

Back later with Day 4, Part 2. Now only 11 shorts behind!

Ca va bien!

Day 3, part 2 - International Competition Day 3

As I mentioned last night, IC3 was great, best of the week so far, and that includes the two I saw today. Yes, as of this moment, I'm now 16 shorts behind! Have no idea how I'm going to catch up with more to come, but I really want to do the shorts from IC3 justice. I'll do them here, and worry about IC2 and IC7 (today's programs) later. Incidentally, the "day" and "part" parts of theses posts refers to the days and parts when I saw them, not when I write about them. Got that?

IC3 was the first evening session and it made a big difference in the audience turnout. Instead of just me and some other solitary types scattered in the enormous Vendome theater in Ixelles, all the cool young people from the city were in attendance. Maybe Philadelphia had film festivals when I was that age, but I was not nearly cool enough to go to them (Sean is probably laughing; he probably moderated a Lynch/Soderberg/Maddin/Hartly round-table discussion in a friend's living room when he was 17). There was even a buzz in the crowd, which I have to admit, may have helped this crop of films. I still think they were all excellent, but I can't deny the importance of context.

I'll start with the 40% of the evening that did not involve kids or the loss of kids (I'm thinking the wrap-up will be about all the sad sad childhoods for these directors - I should have saved yesterday's title). Benjamin De Lajarte's Son Nom (France) got the night off to a great start with a tale of two lives falling apart. Businessman Sydney (John MacClean, not only looking and sounding like Bill Murray, but playing a similar character to Bob from Lost in Translation) finds himself alone in his hotel room, smoking cigarette after cigarette and listening to the couple next door argue. After one particularly brutal fight, Sydney inquires next door but after a halting greeting ( realizes that the woman speaks only Chinese. In order to talk, Sydney employs the very cool (but expensive) translation telephone service Tradutel, and with the help of his paid bilingual (and bone-dry funny) assistant Benoit, tries to learn more about the woman's situation. This is simply a great set-up for a short, as it leads to humorous and poignant mistranslations as the two try to connect, eventually standing in the same room and staring into each others eyes but still talking over the telephone. De Lajarte ends up where you think he will (we can't understand other people) but it's an enjoyable trip nonetheless.

Not, however, as crazy a trip as ReOrder (which sadly, I can't find a good link to even though it played at the Toronto Film Festival) by the Candian director Sean Garrity. Garrity said literally a few words before the screening, but his shyness belies a great imagination. In what may have been the lowest budgeted film I've seen so far (at any rate, it seemed to have the fewest number of "cultural" sponsors), Garrity takes an Anderson-like obsession for small details and works them in to a plot about a man (Kyle played great by Brian Roach) trying (and failing) to forgive his fiancé for disclosing an affair during their relationship. Kyle's way of "dealing" with the situation is to at first calmly rearrange his shoes and CD collection. The fiancé (Jen Pudavick) initially is worried but begins to play along with Kyle's obsessions, including his decisions to paint every item of the house purple and rearrange it in a spiral on the snow-covered back lawn. When it finally seems that Kyle has everything to his liking, and the marriage can be saved, Kyle goes on an freak-out and trashes the place. I was a little disappointed in the final berserker scene actually, in which Kyle tears down only a small percentage of the immaculately contrived room. I would have liked to see a scarier and more thorough trashing, but maybe Garrity has a little Kyle in him and could bear to destroy what took him so long to create.

Blandine Lenoir (France) can probably relate. In Pour de Vrai, Lenoir has pulled off a single-shot masterpiece that must have taken months of planning. Reminiscent of Alexander Sukurov's Russian Ark (though a suburban house stands in for the Hermitage), we follow a woman (Nanou Garcia, pictured above) wandering around speaking broken phrases about a lost child ("I would want to be pregnant, but only so I could have you again"). Sometimes the words are in the form of a monologue but other times Garcia speaks directly. All the while, we hear a (very good!) garage band playing in the background, and odd things like giant yellow ducks and girls in fairy costumes float by in the background. Garcia seems at first to a bit troubled, and you are sure something is up when she finally runs into the band and demands they play their two-hour song "Death" again. But all this confusion does get resolved in a way so that you don't feel cheated by a director just being, in Moe's immortal words on post-modernism, "weird for the sake of being weird." It's just a beautiful 22 minute piece of art; the most accomplished directorial effort of the festival so far.

While Garcia may or may not have lost a child, the family in Milan (Germany/Serbia), Michalea Kezele's saddening tale of a Serbian family during the NATO bombing campaign to oust Slobodan Milosevic, certainly do. The fun-loving and rebellious Ognjen wears a bullseye shirt to show his contempt for the Yankee aggression, but is ultimately killed by a combination of an inept bus driver and an allied-caused power failure in his hospital. It's hard to pull of this kind of Loachean thing in under a half hour (especially when you have a side plot about an American soldier being hunted by local yocals, one of whom is actually carrying a pitchfork!!!) but Kezele is able to weave together the macro and micro issues of world and family politics pretty effectively. That is, however, until the end when the director herself sings a dreadfully bad song that sounds exactly what you think it might sound like if a bad Enya impersonator led a Serbian Pink Floyd cover band. Geez, hasn't she seen what happens when you try to do everything.?

And, last but not least...happy kids!!! Well, sort of. The kids in Liz Lobato's La Quela (Spain) are happy for at least the short time when they have their paper-maché dolls, but are still miserable before getting them and after losing them. There really is no plot aside from the tragic end of the dolls, but the direction, timing, and music are fantastic. Set somewhere-in-Spain-that-I-would-like-to-see-where-everyone-lives-underground, Lobato captures the harsh desert sun with a black and white film stock that is almost blinding at times. Even better, when the family goes underground, she captures shadows like Welles in several shots that look like 40s and 50s era classics. This technique isn't really suited to the material, but I could see Lobato making some haunting films. I couldn't find a good picture, but the "Day 3" link at the top has a good one.

So that was it: the first session where every film rated either a 4 or 5 on the Prix du Public ballot. Today's two sessions were a bit of a letdown, but still good. And I got interviewed for some television commercial/show. I almost agreed to do it in a French, but I quickly caught myself from that Sydney-level disaster.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

IFFBoston - Day 4

Let's see, where did I leave off? Oh yeah, so the Times totally ripped off my Harmony Korine story -- he had another one about how his two childhood friends got arrested for stealing curbs (don't ask, I don't know but Harmony used them to tap dance with in his backyard) one year and so now friendless he spent his days going to see movies at the local college theater. Anyway, Mister Lonely was enough movie to last me two days so I took Friday (Day 3) off, drank too many vodka tonics, but managed to catch two movies on Sat.

First up was the excellent and often amazing My Effortless Brilliance. If there was one movie that has your name on it in this fest, Paddy, this one is it. A largely improvised story of a writer trying to get back in touch with the best friend that basically broke up with him. The writer, Eric, is played by the front man for the band Harvey Danger (remember them?) Sean Nelson. We meet him as he tries to call up his old friend Dylan (Basil Harris) to bring over some Indian food and hang out. Dylan does bring over the food but stops cold in the doorway, calls Eric a horrible friend, an asshole and tells him that he's through with being his friend. Ouch.

Sean Nelson is surprisingly enough a superbly natural actor. I suppose it helps that the doorway break-up was plucked from his own life and that Basil Harris is a good friend of his, and that his character is a writer struggling to live up to his successful first book (much like the trajectory of his real-life band). But the why's and what-for's aren't important -- what is important is that were given these immediately rich characters with built-in backstories that you can feel exude off of the screen. The audience didn't find out these quasi-autobiographical details about the movie until the Q&A that followed but I'm positive that everyone in the audience was asking themselves the same question while they watched it, "Is this improvised? And if so, then they must be off-screen friends, right?"

A few years after the break-up, as a lonely Eric plods through another attempt at a book tour, he decides to track down Dylan at his new house -- surprisingly enough to Eric, a cabin out in the woods of the Northwest. Everything that follows from here on out is these two friends, and Dylan's neighbor Jim, trying to connect or re-connect as the case may be.

The woodland cabin setting is great. Aside from being an inherently beautiful place to photograph, nothing forces people to deal with each other quite like being cut off from the rest of the world. As Padraic may surmise from this description, I could not help but think of Old Joy from a couple year back -- a favorite of our from 2006. While I would say Brilliance is a comedy to begin with it certainly shares a similar genre as Old Joy. Some have called this genre "bromance". I won't take up more space here to argue that term.

This isn't a film about huge psychological breakthroughs or even the tender moments that Old Joy had, it end up being a story of two friends reconnecting through shared experiences old and new. The best part of the movie is Eric, Dylan and Jim finally sitting down in the cabin together and getting drunk. The gradual process that takes place is perfect, real and hilarious. Of course, the evening ends up with them agreeing to go out to shoot the possibly mythical cougar that roams the acreage that surrounds the cabin, making for a disastrously funny expedition.

I can't recommend this movie enough. It's surely more relateable and accessible than Mister Lonely yet will probably see half of that movie's distribution (if any at all). I hope I'm wrong.

My girlfriend and Specialfellow caught the feature Frownland as I went home for a couple hours recuperation. I came back to wildly diversive responses. GF saying it was almost unwatchable and SF saying it was brilliant. Maybe I'll get them to agree to do a dual review on it.

Somewhat quickly, in film fest time, following Frownland was the highly anticipated, by me anyway, Beaver Trilogy. In the early 80's Trent Harris was working for a TV news magazine and bumped into Grovin' Gary. A 21 year old kid taking pictures of the outside of the TV station and it's helicopter. They strike up a conversation that Harris films and it's something that is immediately awkward and captivating. Gary is odd to be sure, with a goofy nervous laugh, uncontrollable exuberance and weird mood swings. Gary tries to show off his impersonations at first and then his car, with etchings of Farah Fawcett on one side and Olivia Newton John on the other, which has to be started with a screwdriver. While he rides off you might ask yourself, if he sent you letter asking you to film his hometown's talent show, one that he'll of course be a part of, wouldn't you be curious?

Trent Harris did film that talent show and it is indeed jaw dropping. But before the show even starts we witness Larry getting make-up put on him by an employee of the local funeral home so that he can take that stage to do his impersonation of Olivia Newton John -- or as he calls the act, Olivia Newton Don (in the third act it's called Olivia Neutron Bomb, much better). I'm not sure if this part, him being interviewed while getting make-up applied and repeating over and over how he is all man, or the actual performance is the most mesmerizing part of the movie.

The talent show itself is a ramshackle mix of your typical small town acts. There's the two sisters singing their way through a standard, the cheerleader act, someone with a baton... and a girl who kind of looks like she's doing a ventriloquist act without any dummies (but this might simply be due to the way it's shot, hard to tell but either way it's extremely bizarre). When Larry finally takes the stage with his band it is something of an improvement over what has come before but that's not saying much. His impersonation of Newton John is not much more than a high-pitched male voice with an Australian accent. There is some conviction, you believe him when he says how much he admires her, but the main reaction to his (and his band's) performance of "Please Don't Keep Me Waiting" is that of unbelievable dumbfounded shock. There is of course a coda where he and the band come back on, not in drag, and brutalize a Neil Diamond song.

So... after watching the first "real" portion, I'm immediately questioning my own reactions and thinking about those first weeks of every season of American Idol. Every year you get to watch people with these fiery passions about their favorite singers and their own talents crash and burn in front of you eyes. Except here you don't have a judge immediately (try to) extinguish the flame. How is one supposed to react to Groovin' Larry? Trent Harris gives us two more chances to figure it out. The second part of the trilogy is Sean Penn circa 1981 reenacting everything from the initial meeting, the make-up and the performance captured in an errie looking black and white home video camera format. Penn is equally mesmerizing in his performance. The guy was simply brilliant from the get go. This portion allows you to admire the metaness of Penn impersonating an impersonator. Man, this should have been shown right after Mister Lonley... jesus.

The last portion is an honest to god attempt at creating a short movie out of Groovin' Larry (now Groovin' Gary) and the talent show. This time a very young Crispin Glover is in the role and we are given attempts at getting behind the scenes of the show and how the other performers ended up on the stage. It's certainly not as interesting as the first two and it comes close to After School Special territory except for the fact that it stars Crispin Glover. But in a weird way it puts a sympathetic light on Larry/Garry where the first two spotlight him in a way that has you laughing at him more than with him.

The Beaver Trilogy is certainly a movie worth watching if you get a chance. And if you can manage not to have "Please Don't Keep Me Waiting" constantly running through your head for the next couple days you're a stronger man than me Gunga Din.

Here's the original Groovin' Gary doing his Barry Manilow. New Yawk!

I'll wrap up the festivities tomorrow (god willin' and the creek don't rise) with a look at a Bruce McDonald and Ellen Page experimental collaboration and the newest from another of Canada's prized exports, Guy Maddin.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Kids are Not Alright

Day 3, Part 1 - International Competition 5

Second set of films and another fun group of shorts about abandonment, violence, sexual confusion, and really really unhappy kids.

The programmers once again put the best film up front, though Sonia Larue's Rosalie s'en va (France) may have benefited (for me) by not having French subtitles. The sound was a little bass heavy, and I had a hard time understanding a lot of the screaming and yelling between Rosalie and her parents, so any possible false dialog was lost on this guy. Fortunately, Larue's soft cinematography and brilliantly framed shots more than made up for this. The beautiful Julie Henry (pictured left) gives a tour de force performance (if such a thing is possible in a short), raging against her domestic situation and eventually leaving home with her sister. I was very unhappy when this one ended, as I had somehow forgotten it was a short film fest and was ready for 90 minutes with these characters. If you click on the link above you can check some of it out.

While Rosalie nicely condensed a full story into 13 minutes, that is nothing compared to the (technically) superb Diente por ojo (literally Tooth for Eye, as in Hammurabi's Code of "eye for an eye") which somehow incorporates four separate stories and at least a dozen speaking parts. I say technically because with the goings on in writer/director Eivind Holmboe's (Spain) head - to wit: conflicted homeless burglars, hit and run teeny boppers, a broken marriage, a kinky sex pairing, and a cross-generational sex pairing - it's hard to have any idea what he is trying to say. Much like this dude, it is hard to get past all the troubled and sad lives to any kind of statement other than something like "the world is profound and interconnected." Even the title makes little sense. We hear a preacher repeat Ghandi's quote that "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind" during one scene, but none of the acts in the movie are done as revenge or restoration; they are just accidents. A less charitable interpretation would be that Holmboe wants us to think all of the people deserve what they got, in which case he is a scary guy. And if this weren't enough, the most important visual metaphor is a business man using the same toothbrush as the homeless man. Ugh. The visual chops are there (the guy's a whiz) but Holmboe needs to find his own Guillermo Arriaga.

The rest of IC5 was uneven, with the highlight being Teemu Nikki's short (Finland) of two middle-aged guys experimenting like they were freshman at Smith. Called Kaveri (A True Pal), it is a bit on the explicit side, but it is a lot of fun trying to watch these guys get it on while one of the wives goes to the store for sugar. I would recommend, however, that any fans of Bach's Ave Maria avoid it; you'll never hear the song the same way again.

Kaveri was actually only one of two shorts today about a gay-curious guy, but in the case of Zucht, the guy is about 13 years old and is interested in his putative girlfriend's dad. I guess it's not quite as creepy if you invert the NAMBLA playbook (the dad is clueless), but even this cosmopolitan critic was hoping for a quick end. I'm pretty sure that link has the whole movie, but I'm not watching it again.

Silvana Aguirre Zegarra's Ela (UK) was a (and I mean this in a nice way) touching film about the cutest little girl in the world who loses her brother. The cinematography was a highlight, but this was one of those evocative shorts where nothing is really going on and you just sort of watch people walk around in their deep thoughts. Here's a clip. Youtube doesn't do justice to the film's strengths, but I just want to prove I'm not lying about the whole cutest girl in the world thing.

Finally, there was La drumul mare (Life's Hard). This somehow won the audience prize at the Rotterdamn Film Festival, and it confirms my belief that people are shallow and stupid, even those who go to film festivals. Oh, Gabriel Sirbu, why did you not just write a short story (incidentally, I'm stunned by the number of people that go into making these shorts!)? This is a very very good and funny story about a burglar and a spoiled yuppie girl who spend a half hour driving around the city, each getting to appreciate the other one more, but the direction is just point and shoot. There is little if anything to suggest that Sirbu appreciates the visual aspects of the medium. Here is a clip from Youtube called "Furt la dumal mare." It has nothing to do with the film, but I liked it.

Note: I've actually just got back from IC3 and it was awesome, so I'll try to get that up soon. Definitely the best program so far! Of course, I have two more blocks scheduled for the afternoon (and something about a thesis?) but by tomorrow night we should be 5/8 of the way through! Man, IC3 was good. Can't wait to get to it.

Festival du Court Métrage de Bruxelles

No Sean, Court Métrage was not where I found myself at 2 am in Brussels for drinking Jupiler in the Grand Place. It's a film festival that I stumbled upon Saturday consisting of 10 days of short (court) films by Le Belge as well as international directors. It will be hard to review so many works from so many different places, let alone do them justice, but I'm going to give it my best shot. I'll probably do some off-the-cuff blogging, but the intent will be to eventually come up with some larger piece that will inevitably end up trashing Hollywood for having less creativity in it's entire summer program than one séance here. You might well rip me for establishing my thesis prior to actually seeing these shorts, but one day in and I am already impressed.

Day 1 - International Competition 6 (I've linked to the individual IMDB or movie pages when available)

There are 8 programs for the festival consisting of the 44 shorts that will be in competition for the international prize. I'm going to try to see all of these.

IC #6 got off to a great start with Reto Kaffi's half-hour long Auf der Strecke (Swiss/German), which immediately eased my concern that I would be watching a series of spirited, but amateur, productions. Aside from an ease with the camera and production values that would make 88 Minutes blush, Kaffi is also able to create fully rounded characters as well as a engaging story line. The action follows a security guard (a fantastic André Meyer) who has a near stalker's obsession with a young woman who works in the bookstore he guards (he tries to impress her by buying a Zadie Smith novel!). Not only does he spend his days following her with his "zoom camera," but he also takes the same subway line. Kaffi has a great eye for the limitless interest public transportation provides (he made a previous short entitled Bus-Stop 99) and the scenes of subtle glances on the subway are superb. A tragic incident in which Meyer behaves less than admirably brings them closer, but Kaffi doesn't offer him up as either monster or lovable loser. Instead of some revelation about our protagonist, we get a well-paced drama that touches on a number of themes about voyeurism and longing, death and loss, and all those other cool things. Oh, and the final shot is as beautiful as anything I've seen all year.

At the other end of the spectrum (and program) was a brilliant little comedic piece by Tesmo Elso about a taxi system worse than Boston's simply called Taxi? (Spanish). A man just trying to visit his mother finds himself bombarded by questions from the driver that apparently have no end: conversation or no conversation? chit-chat or no chit-chat? surly or no? sports, politics, or entertainment? local sports or national? Futbol or not? Barcelona or Madrid?, etc. A gag like this can only last so long, but the timing and faded black and white film work well. While this was probably made with the intention of getting Elso some advertising work (it's closer to a long commercial than a short film), it was the perfect way to end the program.

I was relieved to see Taxi? because it came on the heels of two well intentioned, but (well) boring, shorts by Jan Wagner (Poland) and Melanie McGraw (USA) about poor little kids who feel alienated. The less said about the former the better, but Wagner's Moj Brat (My Brother) lags with too many shots of a young boy just sort of staring at his older brother. And not in some cool, experimental, way, but just still shots of nothing happening. I would say more but one day later and I can barely remember what happened.

McGraw's Pitstop was interesting, but suffered from the hokey set-up of a young girl (Maggie, pictured above) with a camera being accidentally left by her family at a gas station to meet a beautiful and wise older woman (June) who makes exquisite leather handiworks. Andrea Helene does a great job as June (trying her best to downplay her considerable hotness ) but the character is just too obvious: old, alone, but not bitter and more than happy to dole out advice and free leather goods from her middle-of-nowhere gas station. The direction was fantastic, and McGraw has a great eye (like Maggie) for finding beauty in ugliness, but the credibility of June as a real person is seriously in doubt. I have a feeling McGraw is very young (I think I sat next to her parents), so hopefully she will grow out of these idealized characters and find a narrative voice as accomplished as her visual style.

While Taxi? showed some interesting work with direction, the two most original shorts were Constantin Palavios's Ti einai auto? (What is that?) and the animated La Saint-Festin by Anne-Laure Daffis and Léo Marchand. At only 5 and a half minutes long with one scene, two actors and a crude, computer-animated sparrow, Ti einai auto? (Greece) still manages to break your heart. It's just an old man whose memory is gone repeating the same question over and over again to his son, but Palavios still manages to get almost every emotion possible out of the son: boredom, sadness, anger, and finally acceptance of his father's condition.

La Saint-Festin (France) is the product of (at least) two incredibly creative minds, as both the story and animation are full of clever innovations (a possibly homicidal chef) and wonderful visual juxtapositions (drawings done over old photographs, animated flamenco dancers engaging with old movies). Daffis and Marchand could have possibly tried to push the nastier aspects of their film more before the inevitable happy ending , but it's hard to criticize anything that is this alive on-screen.

One day down, and nine to go! Aside from the shorts in international competition, I'm going to try to see some of the "best-of" European programs, as well as a series on the Belgian experimental director Nicolos Provost and a "Great Director" series with an old short by RFC favorite David Lynch! Oh, and just to make Sean jealous, the pass for all of this is a scant 20 euros!

Friday, April 25, 2008

IFFBoston - Days 1 & 2

Forgive me Time Crimes for taking the night off tonight and getting some much needed rest. Since you already have a remake in the works I'm sure I'll be catching up with you later on down the road.

The Boston Independent Film Festival festivities began on Wednesday night to a packed theater for hometown film guy Brad Anderson's new picture Transsiberian. Right off the bat I knew that this year was going to be different than last. When I strolled up to the Somerville Theater after work there was already a line up to the Davis Sq. T entrance to buy tickets for a movie that wasn't starting for another 3 hours. Something about me doesn't like to buy tickets through the internet if I don't have to -- even when there's on service charge as is the case with the IFFBoston online set-up. Last year I was able to get a nice 2 dollar discount with my Harpoon card but after getting the cold shoulder by the IFFBoston email help line and being unable to locate my Harpoon card nowadays I've now pre-ordered the rest of my films starting tomorrow.

So once the ticket window opened (a half hour late - my enthusiasm waning by the minute after standing there for over 45 minutes) and I secured my entrance there was a whole other line that almost completely wrapped around the building come show time. Yes, there wasn't any of this last year -- even with The Ten, by far the most popular movie then and which despite the assurances of the ushers, surpassed the attendance of Transsiberian. But let's get to the movie itself, eh?

What we have with Transsiberian is a decent train movie that shoulda, coulda been a great train movie. It doesn't quite have the strengths of its convictions like the great train movies such as Runaway Train, Emperor of the North or Narrow Margin (a close cousin).

What we have is Woody Harrelson somewhat surprisingly going back to Woody on Cheers mode in playing a naive husband to a wife with a troubled past played by Emily Mortimer. Ben Kingsley continues on his recent path of playing jarringly unstable accented characters with his Russian police officer Grinko who's looking for some missing drugs. The husband and wife befriend an automatically suspicious couple sharing their compartment and not before long someone's dead and the couple and the missing drugs and Grinko are all shacked up together.

There's some pacing problems and there's not much to be surprised by in the movie but it's not a bad movie by any means. Transsiberia is a good movie in everyone's resume but it doesn't do much to improve upon all the people involved. Brad Anderson did better work in The Machinist, Woody in Prairie Home Companion, Kingsley in Sexy Beast, Emily Mortimer in some of my favorite "30 Rock" episodes... These are all whathaveyous but really the problem with Transsiberia is that there's nothing exciting going on. You've seen all these people in much more interesting rolls and we're not given anything new to be excited about. The movie plugs along towards the end and hits some good notes to keep you interested but after all that's said the IFFBoston only got off to an OK start. Certainly better than BUFF's start though.

So the next day, Thursday, I tried to avoid the whole waiting 45 minutes in line thing by showing up at 5:30. I guess this wasn't the best way to go about things since the tickets for Mister Lonely sold out about 5 people in front of me. It was the old rush line for me if I wanted to see Harmony Korine's return to cinema. Seems a 45 minute wait in line was unavoidable for me in these first couple of days. But it worked out. I got my ticket and took my place at the front row next to the Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns. Yes, Paddy's favorite movie critic and me got stuck in the oppressive front row and kind of off to the right too. But it didn't matter, in a movie filled with such visually amazing scenes as Mister Lonely is, no matter where you're sitting this movie can't fail to impress you.

Mister Lonely is all about the moments. In the bizarre Q&A that followed Harmony Korine explained that his movies are all about stringing together as many transcendental moments as he can. And there's a good amount of them on display here. The story is simply a Michael Jackson (Diego Luna) impersonator's journey to a commune where other impersonators try to live out an ideal life. They live in a castle on the highlands in Scotland, tend to sheep and chickens and work on building a stage where they'll put on the "greatest fucking show in the world" as Charlie Chaplin puts it. Yes, there's Chaplin, the 3 Stooges, Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton), the Pope (James Fox), the Queen, Madonna, Little Red Riding Hood, James Dean, Sammy Davis Jr., Buckwheat, and Monroe and Chaplin's child, Shirley Temple. At first life does seem pretty idyllic for these lost souls but when Marilyn brought Michael to the commune she stirred up jealousy in her husband Charlie and when the sheep come down with an incurable disease the household really begins to get dysfunctional. Will their efforts to put on the greatest fucking show in the world keep them together? Oh, and there's some sky diving nuns piloted by Werner Herzog.

The amazing, striking shots start with the very first image of a slow motion Michael Jackson riding a mini motorcycle with a flying monkey attached while Bobby Vinton croons "Mister Lonely". With all the controversy that surrounds Korine it's easy to forget how adept he is at matching the perfectly chosen song with an amazingly photographed scene. There's an abundance of such scenes in this movie as well as some terrific performances by Luna, Morton, Denis Lavant who plays the jealous Charlie Chaplin and an unhinged Richard Strange who plays the foul mouthed patriarch of the commune, Abraham Lincoln.

There are some moments in the movie that have you checking your watch but these are far outnumbered by the transcendental moments that Korine strives for. The moment of the first flying nun as she plummets towards the earth, Michael Jackson dancing atop a cliff, the Three Stooges cutting down the infected heard of sheep, the Pope at the head of the table giving a toast to the misfit family, these all are strikingly original and instantly memorable scenes.

The Q&A that followed was suitably bizarre, prompting Korine to ask whether or not he was in some sort of Candid Camera scenario. Someone possibly unstable who knew him from earlier years showed up and was constantly chiming in the entire time and causing him to awkwardly cut sort some of his answers. At first this was pretty confusing but Korine quickly got into the anarchic spirit that the Q&A turned into and got a spring into his step. A long haired guy desperately wanted to give him something to look at, presumably some sort of movie he'd made. Others wanted to pin down concrete answers to questions like the connection between the commune and the flying nuns. Many of his answers brought out these stories that were at once almost unbelievable but so detailed that they had to be true; like the final question that had him describing how he got motivated to get back into movie making. In summary, it involved him down in Panama hunting some near extinct beast with a local tribe that some Japanese business man was willing to spend millions to obtain. He had a falling out with the leader of the hunting party and in disillusionment he returned to the US. Upon his departure the autstic wife of the leader gave him the leash to her invisible dog which he hung in his basement apartment (his other houses had burned down). The next morning after hanging up the leash a dog suddenly shows up. He knew he had to make another movie.

On the way out of the theater I commented to Sean Burns that my friend would be disappointed if I didn't ask him what he thought of the movie, did he like it? He did like it. But he seemed more concerned about the safety of Korine after the show with these fans of his.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wristcutters: A Love Story

Dir. Goran Dukic

Viewed: On the Couch

Sean heads eastish:

As I've been keeping busy lately trying to take in all the Emir Kusturica that I can find -- it's kismet that this little off-beat mystical romance by a Croatian director would find it's way in between all the Yugoslavian madness of Kusturica and fit right in. But "we're all immigrants here" as our main character Zia puts it. Played by Patrick Fugit, growing up from the days of Almost Famous and looking a bit like a young Jeff Tweedy, Zia is on a road trip with his best friend Eugene to find his ex-girlfriend. Some of the obstacles he has to overcome are that he killed himself a while back and he now lives in a desolate world filled with people that "offed" themselves, he has no real idea where his recently offed ex-girlfriend might be, there's a black hole underneath the passenger seat of the car and they just picked up a hitchhiker who may be Zia's real true love after all.

The imagination and deadpan attitude that is put into the creation of this afterlife world more than make up for the lack of surprises in the plot points. Wristcutters is a perfect example of how to use your low budget and minimal resources to your advantage. The simple trick of making flashbacks to the real world pop with color and the Wristcutters world pale and drab is obvious but effective. While I would have liked more scenes in the urban environment where we meet Zia and Eugene I'm a sucker for a good road movie and I had to agree with Eugene when he tells Zia as he nods off in the passenger seat one more time, "You're missing some beautiful shit", as they pass by the torn sofas and tires and decrepit buildings that dot the desert landscape.

The whole idea of a world populated by people who have committed suicide is a fascinating one. And that the movie makes it a slightly shittier version of real life is perfect. The scenes early on establishing the after-lives of Zia and the people he knows are great -- an entire family reunited after each one ended up killing themselves one after another and falls right back into it's routine, the employees of Kamikaze Pizza... I would be happy with a movie that just focused on the day to day lives of the people but as the title states, this is a love story and a pretty routine one at that. But the interesting and likable characters, especially Eugen (a character inspired by Gogol Bordello's lead performer who contributes a couple of the band's songs to the movie), make spending time with a pleasure.

The movie could be faulted for not exploring the possibilities of this world further than it does but I liked what it did with the most basic questions. And that the most important question, What happens when someone kills themselves again (do they end up in an even shittier world)?, inspires cults and messiahs to pop up is an interesting thread to follow as the movie does in its final act. I can also understand the argument that the movie could inspire someone to take a romantic view of suicide. I think it's a dumb assessment to take but I could picture someone dumb enough to take it. The movie is pretty clear that it's a miserable world but sparsely populated and the fact no one can smile ("everyone's an asshole!" says one character) are things that I'm sure the inclined could look at as pluses. While the story of Wristcutters could be summed up as, A Man Finds True Love After Killing Himself, I think the ending of the movie re-enforces the point that the real-world is the only place where love can happen.

One of the draws this movie has is that it's one of those rare occasions where Tom Waits pops up for a role so some people may be wondering how he turns out. Well, he's no master thespian but he has a sly playfulness that is quite appealing. His role as Kneller, the head of one of the cults our travellers run into is larger and a whole lot more meaningful than you'd expect given his past movie roles being more of a quick hello. It's also worth noting RFC favorite Mark Boone Junior pops up in this -- a treat even if he is confined to a wheelchair and has but three or four lines.



Agree completely on almost every point. I was really drawn into the initial world of the seedy bar, the lame pizza shop (I just got the joke in the name...I'm slow), and the crappy apartment. I like especially how the post-suicide world basically looks like life in your mid to late twenties, and setting the ennui of slackerdom in a fantasy world rather than, say, Seattle, allows director Goran Dukic to explore some of the frustrations of this time without it looking like a big-screen version of the wretched Quarterlife.

While Fugit is perfect for the role, it really is the side characters that make the movie so enjoyable, starting with Eugen and his crazy car. I may be easy, but I laughed every fucking time something went under that seat. Shea Whigham is really really good and I'm looking forward to seeing him develop into a great character actor. I'm also sure it was a lot of fun to envision this world and then realize that you can put all sorts of crazy folks like Mark Boone Junior, Jake Busey, Deadwood's John Hawkes and Waits in it. I thought Waits himself was surprisingly good too, actually acting instead of just trading on his natural charm.

The movie does have two severe limitations, however, that would keep me from recommending it. The first is simply that the plot ravels out of control to the point that by the time Will Arnett appears (in the role, basically, of Will Arnett) I was done with the story. It's not surprising that the screenplay came from a short story (Etgar Keret) because beyond the initial idea, the movie doesn't have much to move it along and it's up to all these great actors to drag it to the finish line.

But the real problem I have is in the love story part. You rightly point out that it is conventional, all the way from the dumped boyfriend to the tired cliche of the dumb blond girl vs. the cool brunette. Even the names are giveaways as you know right away that Zia is not going to fall back in love with someone named Desiree. But worse is that the movie cops out on the question of love. The entire movie we hear about how Zia has to track down the love of his life, but by the time we see her, she is a two-dimensional raving lunatic. What could have been a difficult choice between a past love and a current love is turned into a no-brainer. There is no understanding of why Zia cared so much about this girl that he would remember her name, let alone kill himself over her. It's just false.

I suppose you could explain Desiree's insanity as a metaphor, that Zia has grown emotionally to the point where he (and we) can't even remember why he loved her in the first place, but this seems an easy way out. I'm not surprised that a movie would present this kind of easy transition between loves, but it is disappointing in a movie with a set-up that would lead you to believe it might actually try to present real people as they actually experience emotion. It's not that I need to see those things in every movie, but if you aren't going to deal with them seriously, you might as well just go the crazy-ass Kusturica way and get rid of all conventions.


Sean tucks 'er in:

I've found that as well as this movie there was a series of comics based on this short story of Etgar Keret's that are collected in a book called "Pizzeria Kamikaze". I can picture this as prime subject matter for a wandering, leisurely paced black and white comic book. I haven't seen it so I don't know if this is the path they take with the book but it's how it plays out in my head. It is how the best scenes of the movie play out. The description of this graphic novel from the publisher is, "Pizzeria Kamikaze is about a guy with a broken heart who committed suicide only to find himself at Pizza Kamikaze, a regular day job in a world where everyone died before. Now, it's about passing time." If only that was all it was about I think they could have pulled together a five star movie that would have been praised along the likes of Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise.

We've spoken about how important an ending is to a movie -- Wristcutters has such a great beginning that the sputtering of the ending (once Will Arnett appears) can't get me down. I recommend this movie as a perfect Saturday morning/afternoon delicacy. I think it plays well on a small screen, I'm not all that sad that I missed it in the theaters and I dare anyone who sees this to try and get that Gogol Bordello "Underground" song out of their head during the week afterwards.

Friday, April 11, 2008

IFFBoston - The Schedule

Well whomever scheduled this lineup obviously wasn't reading RFC since they put Stuck and The Beaver Trilogy up against each other. I don't use it often, if ever, but: WTF. Seriously, I've done my homework since the schedule was put out Wednesday and these two are about the only movies getting one showing. Crestfallen is a good word to describe my feelings about this schedule. Bullshit is another. So it is with a disappointed pen that I write this missive --
I mean here is my IFFBoston forecast:

Wed - 7:30 @ The Somerville -- Transsiberian

Thu - 7:30 @ The Somerville -- Mr. Lonely

These two days are easy to figure out. They're weekdays, big premiers and I'm an old man.

Fri - 11:45 @ The Somerville -- Time Crimes

Sat - this is the big fuckaround (Sofie had it easy!) but here it goes...
2:45 @ The Somerville -- My Effortless Brilliance
8:15 @ The Somerville -- Frownland
11:30 @ The Somerville -- Beaver Trilogy

Sun - 7:45pm @ The Somerville -- Goliath
10pm @ The Somerville -- Tracy Fragments

Mon - 8pm @ Coolidge Corner -- My Winnipeg

That's the gist of it. There may be a spontanious viewing here or there -- a decision to see a shorts collection on Sunday or something but for now that the schedule. Maybe next year the folks who run this show will have some sense to not put the two biggest draws up against each other and come up with a money saving pass that doesn't require you to see 15 movies to make it worthwhile.