(miss early Loach due to working duty; trustworthy colleagues respond from “the usual, but very good, like the early 90s ones” to “the usual, but completely predictable, uninteresting, and the awful music again”)
The Last Letter B
Odd one-off for mega-documentarist Frederick Wiseman: he films a 60-minute theatre monolgue (with that kind of suppressed egocentric artfulness and perfect voice intonation that goes along with stage acting provided by Comedie Francaise thesp Catherine Samie). It´s a recitation of the (fictional) last letter written to her son by a woman in an Ukrainian ghetto, 1941, who knows she´ll be carried off to death the next day. Fascinating collision between the sparse minimalism of the play, its understated yet awkwardly heavy-handed symbolisms and an almost Straubian brittleness in filming it. Short enough to remain interesting.
Russian Ark (competition; walked out)
Actually I pretty much liked what I saw (heading for a B: fascinating, but also goofy and pretentious), but I wanted to catch the only screening of the Godard video. My former editor remained and said the grand finale, a 900-people-ball in the Grand Eremitage whose history from the 18th century to the fall of the last tsar is traversed in one
90-minute shot, was the best scene of the festival. Digital video brought to new extremes by Alexander Sokurov via HD, which – with this and the Austrrian Elsewhere
- begins to look threateningly stunning.
The Old Place B+
Same old greatness from JLG, though not on par with his Histoire(s) du cinema
, probably the greatest inividual achievement of the last decade, this time in a video for MOMA (I think), promptly rejected. Meditation on painted and cinema images, the end of culture and other favourite topics, complete with faux-pretentious memorabilia, and hearteningly unrelening cultural aggression. Very beautiful and overwhelms the films of the next few days: it seems to carry all their themes in them. Screened with the restored Fail Safe
: a gripping (if overshadowed by ist neighbour Dr. Strangelove
) tale of cold war spinning out of control, mostly in that cool, detached, sleightly unreal TV set aesthetics that infused/renewed US cinema at that time. SPOILER Seeing the American president ordering to bomb New York in order to restore peace made we wonder when that will ever be possible in the US film climate.
About Schmidt (competition) B-
Alexander Payne´s new one proves him to be a regional, artistically slightly compromised filmmaker. His tale of a retired businessman´s (a brilliant Jack Nicholson, that kind of subdued brilliance that probably lets you take home the Academy Award) search for meaning in his love has odd timing, pointedly excruciating humour and the same disaffected point of view as Election
. “It´s cloying, if entertaining to watch Jack´s antics” one colleague said, the other: “No, it´s one of the few unaffected Hollywood films that talk abut real life in recent years. Can yoou remember a scene where they earnestly disuss traffic shortcuts for two minutes upon arrival of a relative.” I stood between them and thougt that each of them was right, in parts.
Glowing Eyes B
Truth be told, it´s about half an hour too long – otherwise it would just be like the hardcore version of Luc Moullet´s amazing cinephile ode to a run-down cinema, La sieges du Alcazar
. Kinda love triangle between the female cashier (middle-aged, experienced, strongly acted by Vittoria Sconnamiglio), the 20ish projectionist and an 50ish customer (Nolot himself), but mostly ist just an exucse to watch the going ons in a porn theatre (obviously a real-life favorite place of Nolot) frequented by gays (sudden Schroeter flashback, there): Occasional full frontal sex, lazy jokes, some nice travelling shots (“like an installation”, said a friend) and semi-serious art monologues. Experience quite intensified by having Nolot (and crew) sitting directly behind me, being applauded by the audience afterwards for a film in which a young soldier jerks off on his chest.
The Man Without a Past B+ (competition)
New Kaurismäki goes up the Drifting Clouds
vein – beautiful, 50ish colors, heartbreaking Finnish tango (and the usual rockabilly recycling intertwined with some real blues). Starts off as a genre exercise – Markku Peltolla wordlessly being beaten to amnesia, slowly beginning a new life with deadpan salvation officer Kati Outinen. Social comedy works excellent thanks to usual absurd streak, affecting optimism allowed, material sleightly familiar (see Mike Leigh): “getting stuck in the highest order of filmmaking”, said a friend.
El bonaerense B+
Pablo Trapero´s Crane World
hadn´t exactly enthused me, but his quiet, unforced and very bodily style lends itself perfectly to this study of police corruption in Buenos Aires. Oddly disjointed, with time passing meszmerizingly, enervatingly slow to be torn up by sudden outbursts of emotion and violence. Great natural light photography, scathing satire.
(Squeezed inbetween: a screening of King Hu´s 66 classic Come Drink With Me
starring Cheng Pei-Pei. Of major importance for Ang Lee´s CTHD; superb mixtre of incompatibilities like brutal slashings, oddball humour and song & dance. Restored to glorious, picturesque splendor. Wonderful.)
Unknown Pleasures A (competition)
Three films (and some short contibutions) into his career Jia Zhangke is a major director with magesterial command to make his tales of disaffected, Chinese slackers interesting, even electric despite their lack of narrative. This one is probably the most lively (with an incredibe description of Pulp Fiction´s
impact in one staggering cut) featuing garish, Antonioniesque colors and agile movement thanks to DV (transferred to film). In that way the second truly great film of the festival also deals with the topic Video/Films that is present througout the festival, including digital projections of, amongst others the Sokurov, Episode II
or various films from the retro.
(Too tried for second film in Raj Kapoor tribute – 3 films, 1st missed because of Payne, vow to make up for it the next day.)
Le fils (competition) B+
Stuck in the highest order of filmmaking, again : the Dardennes follow up the great Rosetta
with this similar, but more subdued study of a carpenter workshop instructor beinmg confronted with an apprentice that bears a fatal link to his past. Based again on workplace movemements, the distance and appearance of the actors (Olivier Gourmet´s somber, brooding, mysterious presence setting the mood), sideways plotting and reduced dialogue, resulting in a magnetically intensified reality. Maybe really the heirs of Rossellini whom they admiringly cite in interviews.
Then again, to see my first Bollyood on a Big Screen, namely the Salle Lumiere, should earn it a B-. Lavish, slick historical epic about eternal love, somewhat less enchanting than comparable efforts in other films from India´s film capital. Those colors, however, and thumbs-up to the over-the-top finale including an ode to alcoholism.
Irréversible (competition) C
Unfortunately the fest´s most visceral film also turns out to be its dumbest. Moving backwards in chronology (can´t help being constantly reminded of Memento
) about 15 uncut shots comprise an unrelenting vengeance tale with Vincent Cassel going after the guy who analy raped his wife and beat her to a comatose piece of pulp (one static shot in an artificially red underground passage, real-time), culminating in some three minutes of a face getting beaten to mush with a fire extuingisher. Pitched and designed (and by some publications also hyped with exaggerated tales of faintings etc., although this is not really very upsetting) as the festival´s scandal, it turns out to be a compulsive, utterly reprehensible descend into silliness. At first I thought the gay S/M club as hell called Le Rectum in which Cassel looks for the assaulter called The Tain (“this is a joke” he mutters in one of many postmodern references), I thought this should be some funny provocation (“Fiste-moi”, cry the chain-strapped inhabitants of proto-hell), but turns out Gaspar Noe is serious in his flaccid implications: Movies about violence are only good when they are about nothing but being about movies about violence. Like Funny Games
it´s based on self-grandeur, but it even wants to have the dehumanized charaterizing of blockbuster too, being visibly disinterested in death, stripping itself of any analytical approach. Why the passing grade, then? A) Beginning with its maddeningly chaotic camera movements (like De Palma on bad drugs which suddenly seems a good idea) it conjures a palpable sense of chaos. B) Ends with Kubelka avantgarde flickers capped by a ridiculously banal intertitle, an idea as awkward as the reactionary plot and the lapses into cheap sentimentality – so singularly, overwhelmingly bad that you encounter it only once during a festival. C) Having endured two Monica Bellucchi perfs last year I somehow felt entitled to see her as the victim.
(Manage to catch the last Kapoor film, Aag/Fire
; early Bollywood – still inflected with neorealism, but also a stylized humanism somewhere inbetween the Italians and late Chaplin (strangely reflexive, Phantom of the Opera
-motif-prologue included). Mother India
Nargiss co-stars. Great songs, strong filmmaker.)
The Pianist (competition) C+
Was prepared to hate this one and maybe I should – hopelessly uninventive, impersonal storytelling mercilessly inflated to epic respectability proportion, yet I´m unsure whether that´s a bad thing. The detachment and painstaiking recreations of the ghetto make the story of a piano player (slightly overwhelmed: Adrien Brody) who miraculously escapes the Holocaust palatable in a time where I can´t bear to see any more weepies about the subject. Interestingly reflects this decidedly unaffecting approach in the passive role of the protagonist.
A Red Bear B+
Argentinia remains the most interesting country for cinephile discoveries. (Skipped 9 Queens
at the market, though, based on joker´s review and similar word-of-mouth from friends.) After the dense realism of his expertly small-scale immigration drama Bolivia
, Israel Adrían Caetano goes for a genre story, developed from a scrutinizing gaze on everyday life. Turns into an energetic gangster pic in the half hour, being somewhat at odds with, yet at the same time enhanced by the proceedings leading up to that. The charismatic hero is some kind of Argentinian Bruce Willis, I´m told. All the more power to him.
(Interview with the Dardennes: relaxed, very funny guys, not at all like the tone of their films. Clever, too, with a clear purpose.)
Chihwaeson (competition) B
Im Kwon-Taek returns with another visually sumptous historical epic; this time about a famous painter. Lacks the self-reflexive quality of Chunhyang
and threatens to become the episodic, almot tedious work of an artisan at times, but is saved by overwhelming sense for colors and mise-en-scène plus the irritating use of presenting certain scenes which you´d expect to last a few minutes in 10 seconds max; kind of like the sharp, swift strokes of the painter himself. Beautiful ending.
Welcome to Collinwood B-
Completely unnecessary Monicelli remake, if arguably much superior to Small Time Crooks
, this reasonably entertaining, slight and at times rather one-dimensional diversion succeeds in occasional offshots. Best one, surprisingly: co-producer George Clooney in a hilarious two-scene appearance as safecracker expert in a wheelchair.
The Adversary (competition) C
Just about respectably enough to pass as a labored, conventional psychological study of a fascinating case, this rather uninteresting piece of French Psychodrama is crushed completely by Laurent Cantet´s vastly superior Time Out
which treated the same real incident with more liberties, ideas, visual and actorial precision than Nicola Garcia middlebrow mush would even strive for.
(Interviews with Jia Zhangke and Ronald Harwood, The Pianist
´s screenwriter. First one great [always three-on-one conversations at best here, unfortunately, meet other lovers of my 2 favorite films, though], but hampered by translation problems, Harwood an entertaining man of conversation. We only shortly touch the subject of the film.
(Prepare final article, frustrated with new films after this morning I decide to end the festival on a happy note and go to the retros twice: Singin´ In the Rain
, projected digitally, looked almost amzing, I must confess: copy almost flawlessly reestored, colors near to the luminosity – not as good as a Technicolor cop, but almost an par with a normal 35mm one, only the silhouettes of characters still lack sharpness when placed before a bright background). Am overwhelmed by Donald O´Conner everytime. Great ending of the fest (mcbain will be pleased): Kagemusha
restored. I had only seen it on TV previously, but its climax was one of the forming experiences of my late teen ilm phase. Ths time more amazed by the matter-of-fact treatment of ritualized proceedings and its cosmic perspective, couldn´t believe I had forgotten bout Kagemusha´s dream. Elated, I skip possible repetitions on the last day, head back, arrive just in time at the workplace to finish the last article while the prizes are announced [later rant about those unavoidable] and return to deserved sleep. The Day after: Spider-Man
which I greatly enjoyed, but that´s another story…