Thursday, 12 August 2010


Sigh. The end of another MIFF. I've emerged, bleary-eyed, back into the everyday world, re-calibrating my sense of time and re-aligning my diet (how many cheap shitty sandwiches did I eat during the festival, racing between sessions?).
Actually, compared to other years, I saw less films – for the first time ever, my tally was less than 50 films. While seeing over 50 films may seem excessive to all non-cinephiles, and even to some cinephiles, there are many reasons why I stand by doing this. First up, this may be the only time that many of the programmed films get a chance to be screened in Australia, so one has to support the presence of these films. Second, it can't be helped – even on a bad year (and there were so many films that didn't make it here this year, but that's for another posting, coming soon) there are still a huge number of films for the hardcore cinephile to obsess over, and each year the best films of the year were viewed at MIFF. Finally, although catching 3 to 5 films per day each day for 17 days can get tiring, there is a sense of feeling your cinema-vision being incrementally crafted and honed, the ability to assess the weight, texture, and sensation of each film begins to feel like second nature as you immerse yourself deeper and deeper.
So, a quick overview, then the ubiquitous top ten. A theme that pervaded last year's festival was 'life is bleak, no one wins, the world is a shitty place' (see Martyrs, Eden Lake, Antichrist, just for starters). This year the theme was more benign – it seemed to be about ceaseless wandering. My Joy, Let Each One Go Where They May, Karaoke, Between Two Worlds, The Wind Journeys, and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives all involved characters just simply walking around for a bit. Most of time the walking seemed either aimless, lost, arduous, or never-ending. Rather than the previous year's aura of nihilistic, apocalyptic doom, this penchant for ambling perhaps signifies a modicum of hope – if the future direction of global civilisation has seemed dark, ominous, and paralysingly hopeless, then the act of meandering is at least the start of an ongoing search to try and find meanings, answers, bearings.
There are a huge number of films I have missed, and although most of these films have distribution and therefore may return to the big screen in the next 12 months, the context of a festival adds an inexplicable something to the viewing experience. So, although I will see a swathe of films over the next year that were previewed at the festival, there is always a pang tugging inside me, a little ache that I missed them when they were first shown at MIFF.

Right. Here's my top ten of the festival;
1. NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT (Patricio Guzman; France/Germany/Chile; 2010)
2. UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES ( Apichatpong Weerasethakul; France/Germany/Spain/Thailand; 2010)
3. LOURDES (Jessica Hausner; France; 2009)
4. WORLD ON A WIRE (Rainer Werner Fassbinder; Germany; 1973)
5. LA DANSE: THE PARIS OPERA BALLET (Frederick Wiseman; France/USA; 2009)
6. VILLALOBOS (Romuald Karmakar; Germany; 2009)
7. POETRY (Lee Changdong; South Korea; 2010)
8. OVER YOUR CITIES GRASS WILL GROW (Sophie Fiennes; France/UK/Netherlands; 2010)
9. NE CHANGE RIEN (Pedro Costa; Portugal/France; 2009)
10. ALAMAR (Pedro González-Rubio; Mexico; 2009)

And snapping at the heels of these ten are The Strange Case of Angelica, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, Nenette, Medal Of Honor, and Karaoke.
So, back to DVDs and normal cinema sessions. Sigh.


(Apichatpong Weerasethakul; France/ Germany/ Spain/ Thailand; 2010)

Weerasethakul constructs films like no other. His films may be described as elliptic, but narrative is never ignored – rather there is ceaseless striving to find new ways of telling visual stories. The calm, unhurried pace of his work belies a vigour at the heart of his composition, with many shots and sequences exuding an intense sensorial experience. After predominantly spending time inside a hospital for Syndromes and a Century, Weerasethakul returns to the forest. His latest film is perhaps his warmest, despite the mournful premise that Uncle Boonmee is peacefully preparing to die. Weerasethakul fits magical and supernatural elements quite naturally within the framework of this film, as if the slow shimmering return of Boonmee's deceased wife, or the quiet return of his long-missing son as a Monkey Ghost, a hairy, Yeti-like creature, are almost common, explicable occurrences.
It is incredible how Weerasethakul presents not just one world but many worlds, all layered on top on each other, as if alternate worlds naturally erupt through the membrane of the world we think we know. Time feels alive, as if it is sentient, aware of it's own movement, therefore not necessarily moving chronologically. Weerasethakul explicitly highlights how time can loop on itself in the film's coda, accentuating a sense of mystery and wonder within the everyday world.
Exquisitely shot, the scenes in the forest have to be seen on the big screen – the nocturnal deep green hues of trees in semi-darkness, enveloping the piercing red-eyed shadows of the monkey ghosts, create an environment that haunts the memory long after the film is over.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010


(Koji Wakamatsu; Japan; 2010)

This film is very blunt. It is quite clear that Wakamatsu wants us to simply consider that war is bad, and no-one remains unaffected. He spells this out through his presentation of statistics about the loss of lives in World War 2 at the end of the film, which feels a little too preachy and tacked-on. But, if you ignore the proselytising tone, then the film has depth and complexity, and presents a truly horrific tale of war through the lens of a domestic setting. A wife has to tend to her husband, returned to her after losing all four limbs and the ability to speak while fighting in the Japanese army. He is considered to be a war-God, but this seems to be by sheer dint of having survived with horrific injuries. The film is interesting when elaborating upon the grey zones of the relations between husband and wife – she hates him, yet at times tenderly nurtures him and feeds him like a baby, he is supposed to be a hero, but the flashbacks reveal he is much less than that. Often, the anger, the agony, the screaming, the crying, all gets a bit too much. Shinobu Teriyama's performance as the wife, however, is extremely strong, and the scene where she first runs away at the sight of her deformed husband is electrifying and terrifying.


(Abbas Kiarostami; France/ Italy; 2010)

O.K., we pretty much know the story behind the film by now – Kiarostami has returned to true-blue narrative film-making and has also made his first film outside of the framework of his native Iran. It may be that Kiarostami's placement of this film within the Euro-art-house film brigade will rankle the fans of his signature style, and perhaps there may be some kind of backlash against this film.... but if the film is viewed on its own terms, then we have something that is actually enjoyable and rewarding. The film is almost like a game. The English man is a philosopher, the French woman is an antique dealer. He has written a treatise philosophising about the copy of a work of art rather than original, while she deals with both original antiques and copies. They meet, they talk, they argue, they travel through the Italian countryside. Soon it becomes difficult to discern reality from pretend in their relationship, whether they are newly-met and are playing the role of husband and wife, or whether they have in fact been once married and initially played the role of not being so familiar with each other. Or perhaps the viewer is fooled, believing that the relationship can be easily assessed in a clear black-and-white manner. And all of this is not so far from Kiarostami's earlier work – for example, Close-Up also manipulates the idea of real and not-real. The incremental shift in this relationship unravels with near-imperceptible grace, and while William Shimell is a tad wooden, Juliette Binoche once again reveals her inexhaustable talent.


(Romuald Karmakar; Germany; 2009)

An outright surprise. This is not merely a biographical document of DJ and composer Ricardo Villalobos, but a minimalist portrait of an artist who is thoroughly at home within his chosen passion, who calmly inhabits a world of sound. The film is book-ended with long passages of Villalobos DJ-ing in a huge, cavernous club, and despite the length of these sequences, watching him calmly search through records, seamlessly weave another strand or layer into his mix, and joyously dance to his own aural concoction is utterly captivating. But its when he's in the studio that the film really holds the attention, as Villalobos reveals his lightning-quick skills at assessing tracks for future club sessions, his close attention to detail and his vitality in remixing a track, and an incredible ability to delicately string the nature of acoustics, histories of sound recording, and philosophies of sound into long, cohesive, and richly engaging monologues. It is to the director's credit that he creates this film out of many long-takes, as it enhances the sensation that the subjects presentation of ideas and thoughts is not contrived or pretentious, but something that gently flows from him as he builds and builds on each thought. What we end up seeing in this film is not simply a DJ or a musician, but someone whose dedication to his profession is as natural as breathing.


(Sophie Fiennes; France / UK/ Netherlands: 2010)

German artist Anselm Kiefer has lived and worked in a old former silk factory in Barjac, France, since 1993, and for the past ten years has slowly been transforming this place, and its surrounds, into a gallery-space which is really one giant artwork. This extremely engaging film meditates on the intricate, otherworldly landscape of Barjac, as well as presenting Kiefer constantly engaged in extending and developing this strange and surreal miniature city. Fiennes is not afraid to let the work speak for itself, as slow moving shots pan through labyrinthine tunnels, across monolithic art-works hanging in their own rough-hewn gallery arenas, and over towers of large, semi-broken concrete slabs, all rising from the ground as if the earth has recently spat out some ancient ruins. These long sequences, aided by a fantastic score by Gyorgy Ligeti, are sublime – the music, the art, and the stately motion of the camera make for wonderfully hypnotic cinema. But even more engaging is seeing Kiefer at work, his creativity seeming to be a constant flow that pours forth new ideas at a startling rate of knots. When we see Kiefer at play with a new work, we get to see someone who inhabits the skin of an artist without pretension, with simplicity, verve, and natural grace.


(Tom DiCillo; USA; 2009)

This is a primer on The Doors at it's most basic, and is only enlivened by being immersed in a cascade of archived footage of The Doors and Jim Morrison, in concert, in rehearsal, and all things band-related in-between. At first I though that DiCillo's gambit of presenting this like a story, with only old footage and narration by Johnny Depp, was a positive ploy, avoiding furrowing the path of standard rockumentary fare by doing without the current-day talking-head interviews with a host of movers and shakers in the scene then and now. But in fact, this is where the film falls a little flat. The conflicting voices that pepper biopics such as The Filth And The Fury or End of the Century; The Story of the Ramones gave these films tension and charm. The narration by Depp only provides a long saga that presents just one side and one view of the band and especially Jim Morrison. One ultimately wonders why the film needed to be made – purely to cash in on the hoards of Doors fans who will flock to see this film? Despite this cynicism, the film is somewhat satisfying purely via the opportunity to see a wealth of Doors concert footage in one sitting.


(Hong Sangsoo; South Korea; 2010)

Utterly, utterly disappointing. I'm not so familiar with Hong's earlier films, which by all accounts appear to be his stronger work, but up til last year's Like You Know It All, his waning powers still managed to pull off fair-to-OK films. Hahaha, however, suggests that Hong needs to start investing some energy into projects that do not involve loose meanderings of men who are naïve, deluded, and gormless. It seems extremely unusual that this film, the nadir of his output so far, is the one that has garnered this years Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes. The film feels lazy and listless, with reminiscences between two friends shot in as a series of black-and-white stills, and the stories they tell re-enacted for us in colour. The fact that there are coincidences in their stories, that they unwittingly share the same people in their recent pasts, very quickly loses its flavour, and we are left with a bland series of exchanges that are not really amusing and not really interesting. The titles of Hong's last couple of films seem to reflect a kind of blasé attitude which saps all the energy out of his film-making. If his next film is called Yeah, Well, Whatever then I'm completely avoiding it.


(Ciro Guerra; Colombia; 2009)

The classic theme of reluctant master and eager apprentice on an epic journey is given a lean unsentimental treatment by Guerra, who revels in framing their quest in the panoramic highlands and lowlands of northern Colombia. The plot centres around a master accordionist's need to return a supposedly accursed accordion to its original owner, with a slight intrigue coursing throughout the film as to whether the teenager who tenaciously follows him is his son. The sullen and serious demeanour of the man, his face almost permanently shaded by his hat, and the determination of the teenager almost set these two characters into the perfectly-moulded stereotype of the master/ apprentice model, but there is no easy development or resolution to their relationship. In fact, the man is never really a master, the boy is never really an apprentice. Instead, they are two individuals whose lives become more and more interwined through need – the man's need for endings and stasis, and the boy's need for beginnings and change. The intensity of their respective wishes – the man to quit the accordion and effectively end his life and the boy to learn from him and become a master accordionist – often pits them against each other, but the development of dependency between them is deftly teased out by Guerra. Add to this dynamic relationship a whiff of the diabolical that permeates the film, spectacular scenic shots of these figures set amongst grassy sierras or flat, sparse, arid landscapes, and a brilliant, insult-strewn accordion duel, and the result is a roundly satisfyingly film.


(João Pedro Rodrigues; Portugal/ France; 2009)

This film seems to be an attempt to apply transgender themes and issues to the school of contemplative cinema, but it misses the mark. Essentially we see our transgender protagonist, Tonia, endure a number of tragedies - the fragile relationship with a much younger junkie-boyfriend, coming to the end of a career in drag through being upstaged by younger drag queens, the rejection by her son, and the slow rebellion her own body performs against her. The stillness and quiet that is evoked on a number of occasions is engaging, but the melodrama gets a little wearying at times, and moments wear characters are listening to music or singing themselves are protracted and hamper the film. You know a film is starting to flag when you find yourself more interested in the lead character's pet (in this case a little white Scottish terrier) than the lead character.
The film brings to mind Fassbinder and Almodovar, two brilliant directors who have cast transgender characters in far more intriguing and lively ways. If you really want to see a tragedy based on a transgender character, then you're far better off sticking to Fassbinder's classic In A Year Of Thirteen Moons.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


(Brilliante Mendoza; France/ Philippines; 2009)

This is my first opportunity to see a film by Mendoza, whose film Kinatay provoked a fair storm of controversy last year at Cannes, and is probably not likely to surface here in Australia anytime soon. He has only started directing film since 2005 but has already pumped out 9 films, and this, his latest, is a commendable slice of realist drama. The film cuts naturally and deftly between two grandmothers, one who is grieving for her murdered grandson and having to deal with the aftermath of the funeral, courts, expenses, and finding retribution, the other attempting to acquit her son of the murder of the grandson. A relationship is struck with both camps – we feel for the grandmother of the murdered son and want justice to be served, yet the anguish and confusion of the mother of the potential murderer also clamours for emotional attention. Although this film concentrates objectively and somewhat dispassionately on these two women, placing their plight within the quotidian framework of the hustle and bustle of the city, it is not a cold film, and the sense that these women are searching for a resolution on their own terms gives the film strength and force. Ultimately, this is also a city-film, where the lives of the individuals are marked by the noise, grit, and howl of the city.


(Pedro Costa; Portugal/ France; 2009)

A fascinating document of a singer ceaselessly pursuing perfection of sound, whether its in the recording studio, in concert, or in vocal coaching. Pedro Costa is a consummate visualist, and has translated this talent into stark black and white, creating an interior environment that seems to be ceaselessly nocturnal, as if the subject of the film, Jeanne Balibar, and her musicians are forever locked in the embrace of creation. The film is at its most transfixing when Costa shows Balibar in close-up, and her physiognomy becomes a landscape of tiny, barely-perceptible moods and emotion. The repeated and protracted takes of a song never wear thin – on the contrary, Balibar's often frustrated search to find the rhythm, the cadence, the heart of the song is utterly compelling, as if the art of song has unpeeled for us to see. Costa's films are sublime, but I admit to having doubts about this one, unsure as to whether I would find the singer's music interesting and whether this might obstruct the film. However, all doubts are completely cast aside, and Costa remains one of the most arresting film-makers on the planet.


(Vimukthi Jayasundara; Sri Lanka/ France; 2009)

At first this film seemed to mine whats becoming a well-worn path – that of the contemplative, meditative film, often with a loosely-formed plot erring on the side of elusive or even non-existence, and usually involving a character endlessly walking, often through forests or large forbidding landscapes. Thus, I was initially a little skeptical, as the film seemed a little too contrived, aiming for lush, large, and epic images purely to provoke a 'wow' response. Although I would still say that Jaysundara is still guilty of sometimes presenting images for images-sake, on reflection there is unusual layer of complexity and depth to this intriguing film.

At face value, the film is the peripatetic wanderings of a man who in the first scene of the film appears to fall from the sky, into the sea. As he wanders, first through desolate and destroyed city streets, then through endless tracts of fields and forests, the presence of the chaos of war is ever-present and hangs over every moment like a dank fog. It is clear this protagonist is in the unusual position of belonging and not-belonging, of being between two worlds. Often he observes the chaos around him, other times he participates, often to perform brutal acts without apparent reason. He vacillates between benign omniscient observer, to innocent participant, to villain, then back again, all in a few moments. There is a kind of shock in presenting this character between two worlds, as the viewer is also left in a kind of limbo, unable to either identify or disengage with the protagonist. Ultimately it makes one think of the state we live in now, where we feel engaged with the hubbub of the world yet distant and disaffected by global events.

Monday, 9 August 2010


(Patricio Guzman; France/ Germany/ Chile)

A stunning film. At it's simplest, this is a documentary about the coincidental search for the past in the Atacama desert in Chile, a place where astronomers can perform the clearest observations of the stars, and also where many women band together to search for the remains of relatives who were 'disappeared' during Pinochet's regime. But the engaging and unremitting beauty of this film is the complex interplay and inter-relationship of ideas that Guzman teases out, contrasting the popularity of the deep past of astronomy and archaeology with the habit of modern Chilean society to marginalise and ignore their own recent past. There is a lack of fear in this film – Guzman is not afraid to apply the macrocosms of the universe and the stratified layers of the earth to the microcosms of national history and identity in Chile. Interviews with astronomers, archaeologists, and the determined women who pain-staking dig through the Atacama desert for remains of the dead, all reveal a heightened and lucid ability to philosophise about each of their subjects in relation to the large canvas that Guzman wishes to paint. Breath-taking shots of the Atacama desert, images of galaxies swirling in the cosmos, observatories stationed like sentinels in the desert make this film an absolute visual feast, but Guzman wonderfully bring the macro and micro, the cosmic and the personal together in one sequence near the end, with close-up shots of marbles from his childhood, revealing a cosmos inside these tiny spheres. Remarkable.


(Harmony Korine; USA; 2010)

If I'm trying really hard, I could say that this film is an examination of geriatric boredom, a representation of a brutally-intense desire to remain youthful through childish and trangressive behaviour. But really, this is just a film about a handful of folks who have slapped on some face-rubber to make them look old, running around simulating a host of unruly acts for giggles. Korine's previous films were admiral attempts at concocting a new language for cinema, and while this film is a continuation of that desire, it is more annoying than challenging. I wonder if this film could have been truly creepy and boundary-pushing if the performers chose to really act as if they were old, rather than relying on Freddy Krueger-style face make-up to simply look old.

As a short episodic moment in one of Korine's other films, this may have been genuinely brilliant, but at 78 minutes, the repeated humping of trashcans, jerking off of various fauna, and creepy sing-alongs just start to grate on the nerves. Maybe that's the point, but I can't help feeling that this could have been stronger if it was more macabre than silly. If I want to see hi-jinx with people wearing rubber prosthetics, I'd rather watch an old episode of Bo'Selecta.

Sunday, 8 August 2010


(Yael Hersonski; Israel; 2010)

This is a compelling documentary that attempts to solve many unanswered questions about a Nazi propaganda film that was abandoned for no apparent reason. The film was meant to be a record of the life of the Jewish people in the Warsaw ghetto, and contrasts scenes of utter poverty with scenes of luxury and comfort. Questions about why it was made and why it was abandoned encourage Hersonski to weave meticulous research with personal responses to the film from Jews who survived the ghetto, to create a densely-packed film-within-a-film that examines truth and history. Although it is mentioned early in the film that many scenes in the abandoned film project were staged, the evidence for this still packs a punch. Hersonski reveals a reel of film composed of out-takes, and there we see scenes being shot and re-shot over and over, from many angles , in order to achieve the desired effect. One of the most interesting components of this well-crafted film is Hersonski's choice to show ghetto survivors watching the film in a theatre, allowing for a contrast between the images of the propaganda film and the real experiences voiced by those watching the film. It is as if the power of the original intention of the film is fiercely challenged through placing the subject of the camera in front of the screen.

Friday, 6 August 2010


(Rainer Werner Fassbinder; Germany; 1973)

Unbelievable. Fassbinder welds his aesthetic to the sci-fi genre, and comes up with a pulsating gem that not only pre-dates the likes of The Matrix by over 25 years, but even completely outsmarts and outclasses it. Despite being made in 1973, the theme of the conflict between a virtual world and the real world makes this film poignant and relevant in our current digitally-inflected age.

Fassbinder throws in all his familiar stylistic tropes, but playing within the sci-fi genre seems to have allowed him to amplify his key signatures. His Sirkian-inspired recourse to melodrama appears often, especially as the film picks up speed, and creates some wonderful moments of ironic ham.

Stunning camera-work, fluid and circulating around characters as if trying to assess or ensnare them. Mirrors and reflections seems to be in nearly every shot, nicely alluding to multiple worlds and elusive identities. Lovely little nod towards Alphaville, with Eddie Constantine entering the film briefly, as if the skin of Godard's film has ruptured and broken into Fassbinder's film. All in all, a superb film-going experience that makes you feel lucky to be a cinephile.


(Reha Erdem; Turkey/ Bulgaria; 2009)

This is a snow-covered tale of a community who appear to be at odds with a foreign element, but are really at odd with themselves. A man runs towards an un-named Turkish town, saves a boy from drowning, is welcomed by the town's inhabitants, then finds the town constantly shifting their feelings towards him, as they try to work out what kind of person he might be. This man confounds the town and the viewer – is he an idiot savant, a truly gifted healer, a common thief, a prophet, a madman, or all of the above? Over time it seems as the protagonist is caught in a never-ending loop of being trapped by the expectations of others, and has perhaps tied himself up even more by believing in these expectations. The mystery surrounding this unkempt and unusual man is at times fascinating, although his manic howling bird-cry is annoying at times.

The film is wonderfully shot, and feels rich in colour despite a limited palette of browns, whites, greys, and black. The final shot is especially breath-taking, and feels like a distant cousin to the incredible opening shot of Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light.

Thursday, 5 August 2010


(Shane Meadows; UK; 2009)

Shane Meadows first films in the mid to late 90's were a British mini-revelation, with a loose, comic, semi-improvised flavour. As Meadows has gained more experience and bigger budgets, he's moved away from this free-flowing style, but with this shambolic little thing he's gone back to his beginnings, and then amped it up a notch. By framing his old style inside a mockumentary that seems to be the modern day rapper 'n' roadie version of This Is Spinal Tap, Meadows is exploring newish terrain. Ultimately, this film is a vehicle for comedic brilliance of Paddy Considine – although Scor-Zay-Zee is the real-life rapper and 'the one with all the talent', it's Considine's portrayal of exuberant, forthright, and ridiculously control-freaky Le Donk that steals nearly every single scene in the film. His childlike temperamental attitude so often teeters on the edge of creating outright chaos, but there's enough sincerity and good inside him to keep his boat balanced upright. Lovely how Meadows himself becomes an active viewable component to the film. Short, sweet, and kinda spot-on.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010


(Pedro González-Rubio; Mexico; 2009)

An extremely straightforward premise – a man and his son spend time at man's father's hut in a fishing village – they fish, the hang out with a bird, they cook, eat, watch the wildlife, spend time painting the hut-on-stilts-in-the-sea that is their temporary home for the film. And that's about it. But this is not some contrived piece of art-wank – its fresh and honest portrayal of the gentle and very deep bond that father and son share, and an stunning depiction of how this bond is cemented even further through their communion with nature and the sea. Filled with moments predicated on the art of finding simple joys in the environment around you, this film is never cloying and has a brightness to it that matches the crystal blue sea and sky it so often depicts. The film is also enriched with a tender ache in knowing that there is an impending change in their future relations. Vibrant colours and rich sound – the noise of lapping water forms a constant soundtrack, and you can almost taste and smell the sea.


(Manoel de Oliveira; Portugal/ Spain/ Brazil/ France; 2010)

Still making films at 101 years of age, and still making great films at that. Following in line with so many of his other recent films, De Oliveira continues to show us how a man can be driven to distraction, illness, and madness through the mysterious charm of a woman. A photographer takes a photo of a young dead woman, she comes to life in the photo and he becomes increasingly consumed with desire as she continues to haunt him. Exquisitely composed and masterfully paced, there is such pleasure in drifting through the richness of colour, shape, texture of each shot. The interspersed shots of the city at night were especially memorable, with the distant city lights alluding perhaps to the distance evoked when one is yearning for something ephemeral, elusive, impossible. At 101, De Oliveira appears to be at the top of his game.


(Nicolas Philibert; France; 2010)

The entirety of this documentary exposes the heart of cinema, predicated upon looking, judging, and interposing one's own thoughts and ideas with that of the subject. For the whole film we see Nenette, and occasionally other orang-utans caged in the Menagerie at Paris's Jardin des Plantes, and never see the individuals who comment upon her. As we listen to the thoughts of people viewing Nenette, it becomes obvious that she is merely a mirror for these humans. In ascertaining what she is thinking and feeling, we reveal our own feelings and thoughts. The film is memorable for long lingering shots of Nenette, where her presence fills the entire screen, an overwhelming mass of orange hair and a dark circular rubbery face. Its in these moments where she almost seems to disappear, her presence consumed by the imposition of thoughts made on her behalf, but never hers. An ostensibly simple premise that reveals a richness of complexities about spectatorship, this was a graceful, lovely film.


(Eugene Green; Portugal; 2009)

OK, I honestly cannot work out whether the director was taking the piss or not. The film is about an actress who is in Lisbon to shoot a film based on De Guilleragues's Letters of a Portuguese Nun, and goes through a slow journey of self-enquiry and self-discovery through her encounter with a Portugueuse nun. Sounds innocuous enough. But, for long tracts of this film, the whole enterprise seemed so contrived. It looked like a Frankensteinian concoction of other directors styles – Bressonian close-ups of feet and hands, Ozu-style direct-to-camera shot/ counter-shots, and the semi-hypnotic minimalist acting reminiscent of Green's compatriot Manoel de Oliveira. Just when it seemed that this highly mannerised style was pretentiously intentional, there would be deadpan moments where the thick fog of pretention was broken by dialogue clearly intended to expose this pretentiousness as amusing. Perhaps, then, this film is not that bad, although if you strip away the question of whether of not the film is critiquing the its own arty-farty-ness, the shape and arc of the narrative was still insufficient enough to really shake the attention awake.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


(Benjamin Heisenberg; Austria/ Germany; 2009)

This film is filled with potential and promise, but just never seems to take off. The story of a man's twin obsession with running and robbing banks, the film often looks great, but has no drive. The framework of the film screams for some kind of insight into the main character, but he remains blank and aloof, almost unreadable and unidentifiable. Not all films require some kind of character-revelation, but for this viewer, there needed to be something more in this character to make him tangible and to propel the film into larger dimensions. I like the less-is-more aesthetic in cinema, but this film needed a large dose of more. The character is so unusual that it would have better to have provided some small modicum of psychological engagement, to allow the viewer to palpably experience the adrenalin rush of endlessly fleeing from pursuits rather than watching his flight with vague disengagement.


(Michîle Hozer, Peter Raymont; Canada; 2009)

A fairly standard biography of Glenn Gould's life and work. The viewer is familiarised with his upbringing, his quick ascendancy to fame, and then his rejection of its trappings in favour of a somewhat more reclusive life working on various projects that primarily interested him and not the taste of others. His eccentricities and peccadilloes are placed in the center of the film, although even if you have even smallest understanding of Gould, this angle was going to be extremely obvious. The film-makers did raise the interest levels by showing a gradual change in his eccentricity, from it possibly being a cultivated thing in his youth to perpetuate a kind of marketable myth, to it being a full-blown melancholic malady that truly afflicted his later life. Interesting use of archived footage on occasion, especially at the beginning when it seemed that the whole film was going to be composed of nothing but pieces of old footage of Gould.


(Hirokazu Kore-eda; Japan; 2009)

I've found my interest in Kore-eda's films dropping off incrementally with each film since his grand 1998 effort After Life. This has redressed a little with Air Doll. Just a little, mind you. The film is a modernised fairy tale not just because of the theme of a sex doll finding a heart and coming to life, but also because of its reflection of the darker and sadder parts of human existence. The joy of discovery that Nozomi the sex doll experiences, as she explores the world around her, is replaced with the pain of recognising the true reason for her existence – to appease the loneliness of others. The sequences of glimpses into the lonely lives of others in her neighbourhood are achingly rich, but I'm getting thoroughly sick of the sickly-sweet tinkly-winkly soundtracks that Japanese films use to let us know that these moments are poignant. I wonder if the film would have improved a great deal if there was no soundtrack at all.