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2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film
Irreversible

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Thursday, October 31, 2002
 

40th Vienna Film Festival


ended yesterday (closing film suitable weak, but inoffensive except for the jaw-droppingly unnecessary, sentimental final montage: Lantana). Not many major films discovered, spent most of the good hours reassuring myself that various favourites from over the year - A Tender Place, Gerry, El bonaerense, Far from Heaven, Unknown Pleasures - are at least close to greatness (the first is definitely a masterpiece) with Dolls, which looked even better on second viewing, joining the ranks.

Minor Pleasures: 1974, une partie de campagne (previously known as 50,81 %), the debut of the great documentarist Raymond Depardon. A report about the 1974 French presidential election and, more precisely: the campaign of conservative candidate Giscard D´Estaing, it was banned by its subject (even though he initiated it). You understand why: vain D´Estaing comes off as profoundly corrupted by power, a manipulating misantroph that isn´t even very convincing at his fake humanist attempts. Shortly after the opening there´s a priceless shot where he´s asked by a reporter to pose with a kid for a photo when he hurls off an airplane. He barely manages to repress his digust while smiling, heedlessly lifting the little girl. In hindsight it´s not a particularly impressive work of the filmmaker who would become much more precise and allusive, but it´s a crafty verite debut that gains a certain creepiness from being centered around a phoney. Interesting, that D´Estaing, still a major player in his country, has become so disinterested about his image that he allowed the release now. Letter from a Yellow Cherry Blossom was again breathtakingly subjective cinema by Naomi Kawase: a doc on a dying critic and photographer (he´s getting into the final stages of terminal cancer, the movie plays out mostly on his hospital bed). Again her mix of inventive forms of reflection and unpremediated on-the-spot approach creates a level of intimaticy (you feel you can see someone think, expressing himself only via found images) that´s almost too fragile to bear, but not as overwhelming as last year´s Kya Ka Ra BaA. Then there was Travis Wilkersons´ absorbing essay An Injury to One about the lynching of a union agitator in Montana in 1917. He conveys a complex approach reaching from Dashiell Hammet to modern economical issues, but although it´s all very clever it´s never truly original. CalArts style, of a high order to be sure, but the influences - Bitomsky, Farocki, even a dash of James Benning (whose new one, Sogobi, was wonderful again, but not as great as the previous Los, the lively, endlessly fascinating middle part of his California Trilogy) - show. Same goes for Ulrich Koehler´s Bungalow, a remarkable first feature from Germany: its final shot is culled right from Five Easy Pieces. (The interview I did with Koehler was my favourite as we quickly discarded his film as a topic after using that as a starting point and talked favourite movies, exclaiming "Two-Lane Blacktop!" at the same time and reassuring each other of the brilliance of Apichatpong Weerasethakul´s Blissfully Yours which was the festival´s biggest omission, along with Snow´s *Corpus Callosum.) But it´s got remarkably assured direction as a study of post-adolescent alienation it´s sincere. Like Diego Lerman´s Tan de repente which I saw for a second time (and deservedly won the FIPRESCI prize), it´s likeable at every moment, probably because it never even stretches for greatness or even anything like that. Both films feel paradoxically light, warm and alive despite their inclusion of weigthy subject matter. On the other hand, Sokurov´s Russian Ark (one uncut shot: a passage through the Eremitage of St. Petersburg, on HD which looks mighty impressive again here) was pretentious as hell, but also surprisingly involving: its visual pull while it glides through the ravishing settings is undeniable, totally unlike the brittle nature of other Sokurov films I´ve seen. A colleague used a German metaphor - "building the dome with matches" - afterwards which may be spot-on. I highly suspect that Sokurov´s having us on with his historical implications (the European diplomat who accompanies the camera/filmmaker=Sokurov´s voice once intones: "The revolution was a mistake!") and allegory, but this is an absolutely amazing stunt gathering its own kind of suspense in the making (what if one of the extras fucks it up in the grand and vastly populated final ball scene, hey, one is looking in the camera: does thats still fit into the concept or not?) and its resolutely off-the mark-humour is actually funny ("All composers are German!") One of the year´s most entertaining films first, a technical breakthrough only second. Also endlessly amusing and piffle at the same time was Kentaro Otani´s brilliantly structered comedy-cum-melodrama Travail whose sparse mise-en-scène can give the smallest gestures a high hilarity quotient. It peters out a bit near the end, but every minor fault is compensated by the fact that Shinya "Mr. Body Hammer" Tsukamoto is surprisngly moving and even funnier as introverted husband of the heroine.

What else feels old: The Depardon aside, as it is a new release, somehow (it´s never been screened publicly to this year), but the finest moments were in the retrospectives, anyway. A tribute to Sissy Spacek included Carrie (the shot with the car going reverse near the end is still awesome) and an almost pristine, even luminous copy of Badlands, in the Rivette retro I found time to rewatch Renoir´s masterpiece The Golden Coach, Mizoguchi´s Gion Festival Music, Noroît (my favourite Rivette) and Claire Denis´ moving portrait Jacques Rivette, le veilleur (made, of course, for Cinema de notre temps for which Rivette made a Renoir portrait when it was still called Cineastes de notre temps). A small tribute to Turhan Bey included The Spiritualist aka The Amazing Dr. X, a lovable cheapie given treatment extraordinaire by master DP John Alton: this may well be his unsung masterpiece. Bernard Vorhaus´ direction is evocative, the script typical dime-a-dozen fare. And though I fell asleep a few times (lack of sleep and heat due to ventilation problems) during the scope glory of Michael Ritchie´s remarkably cool, sharp and cynical Prime Cut what of it I saw again I enjoyed deeply. (I regretted it less when I dozed off during Auto Focus at the two-thirds mark sice what I´d seen was rather slick, uninvolving standard fare, though I heard it gets better after that. I loved the "I get all hot again scene", however.) Herzog´s Stroszek (in the tribute to cinematographer Ed Lachman) was erased by the accompanying short, dancing chicken and funniest auction scene ever notwithstanding: La souffriere, shot in a deserted city while awaiting a monumental Volcano eruption in Gouadelupe is one of the most unsettling documents of human folly, an amazingly profound work. Which, needless to say, also applies to (my first viewing of) Dreyer´s The Passion of Joan of Arc. And I still liked the festival trailer after twenty-or-so-viewings. SB, a handpainted 50-second-strip by veteran Stan Brakhage has just the right length, after a while his haindpainted work tends to get tedious otherwise (though Very and Night Mulch, the two longer ones I saw have a convincing argument for their existence: In them, Brakhage is painting over the trailer for Quills.)

Walkout quotient was low (and not always due to the movie, but because of work - though thankfully always with at best ok material involved). One that really hurt: John Sayles´ Sunshine State because I wanted to like it so much, yet it felt so papery and didactic that I couldn´t bear it for longer than an hour. In descending order of affection: Donnie Darko, the world premiere of Varda´s Deux ans aprex, a minor, but amusing footnote on The Gleaners and I, Philibert´s To Be and to Have (opening night), and the two Rotterdam discoveries, Camel(s) (does nothing wrong and that´s that) and Japon (impressive final camera move worth the wait, otherwise incredibly leaden and enough catholic guilt for three festivals) left me cold, but at least had something to them (oddest one of this category: New Life, Philippe Grandrieux´ fundamentally crazy attempt of crossing the new, largely wordless, physical cinema with its exact opposite: super-slick goth video artifice cum avantgarde trappings; all set in a Russian netherworld of strip clubs, muddy outdoor locations and other places where abuse takes place almost instantly. It´s absolutely empty, but there´s seriously disturbing monomania in the earnest execution of the whole ugly nonsense that impressed me in a way.) Big Unanswered Question of the Festival remains. It concerns the doc Mu Hun: Was the completely incongruous symphonic score over the modest ethnographic images of tribesmen in the north of China a propaganda thingy or huh?